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.
They hadn’t seen Trowa since helping him move over the weekend. It would have been logical to assume he had been reveling in again occupying a home of his own, though he’d only been in theirs for just over a week — Heero and Duo had certainly thoroughly celebrated their renewed privacy — but, unfortunately, the email Heero had received last night indicated that Trowa’s solitude had been short-lived and his time in the new house, thus far, unhappy.
It had begun by informing him that Quatre, before he’d disappeared for his ‘vacation,’ had sent a message to La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré letting them know that he had been the one to destroy the artifact. Trowa had tried divination after divination, apparently, hoping to find out for sure where Quatre might be and whether La Confrérie was involved in his disappearance, but something (or someone) was blocking his attempts.
The second half of the email, though perhaps less worrisome — even, possibly, somewhat reassuring — was more thought-provoking still:
I was talking to that exorcist, Hajime (he is staying at my house for the moment because the police want to question him and he would rather avoid that), about what I was trying to divine, and I realized he was under the impression that we must have known all along where Quatre is and were only trying to determine how to get him back or how to get to him.
He was surprised when he learned we don’t know where Quatre is at all, because apparently your coworker Dorothy, who refers necrovisual cases to him, is an accomplished diviner. All of my divinations regarding La Confrerie and Quatre’s whereabouts are being blocked, so I don’t know if she can do us any good, but since she knows Quatre personally, she might be worth a try. Would you ask her if she would perform some divinations for us?
This information conjured some guilt in Heero for a couple of reasons. First, he might have prevented the necessity for Hajime to hide out at a near stranger’s house (and destroy that near stranger’s newly attained privacy) if he had thought to say something about the exorcist on a couple of different occasions. The police must have heard that Hajime had visited Quatre’s office on the last day Quatre had been seen, and it wouldn’t be a lot of fun for Hajime to explain what he’d been doing there with a sword. Heero and Duo had told the police they’d been waiting for Quatre on Friday to join them for dinner with some friends; if they’d mentioned the names of those friends, Hajime might never have been sought for questioning.
Next, Heero had long been aware that Dorothy was a diviner, but that awareness had always stayed in the back of his head as something he didn’t need to care about. If he’d remembered it earlier, they might be three steps ahead of where they were now. Of course he couldn’t know how ‘accomplished’ she really was, and, as Trowa had mentioned, something was blocking divination on this subject… but it was an avenue worth exploring. Any and every avenue was worth exploring with Quatre’s safety potentially on the line.
So, for a second time, he kept a sharp lookout for Dorothy on Wednesday morning as they pulled into the parking lot. There was no sign of her all the way inside, and Heero had already parted with Duo (with the same promise as last time: to tell him all about it at lunch) before he encountered her — at her desk, and in the middle of a professional conversation even at 7:59.
Heero waited impatiently nearby, passing the time by working through surrounding thoughts, cataloguing them as he’d been actively practicing lately. Of course many of them were about Quatre, to match his own, so this wasn’t much of a distraction.
It still irritated him that his connection with his best friend provided no concrete way to assist in this situation. He’d glanced at the website Hajime had referred him to, and noted that it would probably, as the exorcist had suggested, be very profitable — but that first glance had told him nothing about the specific things he would like to accomplish right now with this ambivalently useful power of his. He needed to look through the site more thoroughly and see if there was anything on there about helping someone close to you with nightmares or telepathically connecting from afar with someone else close to you.
Finally Dorothy finished her conversation. It occurred to Heero that he’d now wasted nearly ten minutes doing almost nothing, and that, if Quatre had been here, he might have faced some trouble for it — but it didn’t matter; that Quatre wasn’t here was the entire point. Purposefully he advanced on the Sales Manager, noting her expectant and somewhat amused expression at his hovering.
“Yes?” was all she said. How much she knew about what was going on Heero didn’t know or really care.
“Quatre’s missing.” He spoke quietly, not wanting to contribute to the chaos of gossip that already existed in the near vicinity. “He disappeared before we could get him exorcized.”
Dorothy looked a little surprised. “Oh, I thought he must be taking some time off to recover,” she said. “Where has he gone?”
“We don’t know. There’s a possibility he may be in some trouble, and we were hoping you could do some divinations for us to help figure out where he is.”
“Of course,” she replied immediately with a sharp smile. “I’m quite interested in Quatre’s condition.”
Heero let out a relieved sigh. “Apparently there’s some divination-blocking going on.”
“Excellent!” As usual, she sounded far more intrigued — and in this case anticipatory regarding the challenge — than concerned or sympathetic.
“Can you stay late tonight?”
“Much as I’d like to, no,” she replied. “I have to pick up my niece immediately after work and keep her all night.”
Heero took a deep breath. Why did they always have to wait for people to help them on this? But he couldn’t demand that Dorothy rearrange her schedule for them, and it wasn’t exactly guaranteed she would be able to assist them in any case. “I’ll tell Trowa,” he began. “Maybe–”
“Trowa?” The edge in her voice suggested sudden engagement.
“Trowa Barton,” Heero confirmed. “Quatre’s boyfriend.”
“The Trowa Barton?”
For a moment she was silent, and for Heero to say he could practically hear the thoughts racing in her head was less a figure of speech than it would have been for many others. “He must have been the one who cursed Duo,” she said at last, almost to herself. “That explains why it was so powerful and long-lasting.”
She fixed him with an accusatory look. “You never mentioned that.”
“No,” Heero agreed. He was tempted to ask why her divinations on the subject of Duo’s curse hadn’t informed her of this, if it was something she would be that interested in knowing, but he held his tongue.
“Well!” She seemed a little annoyed with him now, but her next statement was actually more promising even than if she’d been particularly happy with him. “I could go pick up my niece and bring her back here. She’s interested enough in magic that it shouldn’t hurt to have her here for a few divinations.”
Heero wondered a little how old this niece was, and whether her parents knew that the babysitting aunt didn’t mind exposing her to serious situations involving magic, but he doubted it was any of his business. He just said, “Thank you,” very sincerely. “I’ll let Trowa know.”
Dorothy’s eyes glittered.
“We’re going to meet after work in Quatre’s office. We’ll tell you all the details then.”
“Don’t let the team know you have a key to Quatre’s office,” Dorothy smirked with a slight gesture at the room around them. “It’ll just be more evidence that you were dating him.”
“I don’t have a key to Quatre’s office,” Heero replied somewhat coolly, not entirely appreciating her attitude about all of this even if he was grateful for her promised assistance. “I have a command magician.”
“Of course.” Dorothy’s smile widened. “Trowa Barton can probably get into anyone’s office he wants.”
“Like I said, Trowa is actually dating Quatre. This is very important to him. And to me. And Duo.”
“Well, you can tell Mr. Barton I’ll be there.” Again her eyes seemed to sparkle with extreme interest as she said the name. Despite the emphasis of Heero’s words, she didn’t acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. It reminded him of how Duo had behaved at first — but in Dorothy’s case, it was probably more that she lacked natural sympathy than that she didn’t respect potential negative outcomes. “It will probably take me about forty-five minutes to pick up my niece and get back here, so expect me just before six.”
“Thank you,” Heero said again, and the irritation she had impelled didn’t lessen his sincerity. “I’ll see you then.”
Despite everyone’s best efforts, Trowa had looked unhappy pretty consistently lately, and no wonder. Duo knew that, in addition to being upset about Quatre’s condition — and actively afraid for him now his absence had been cast into such an ambiguous light — Trowa had also been seriously considering, even rethinking, aspects of his own character, which could induce a somber mood in anyone. At the moment, though, Trowa looked more particularly unhappy than usual, with traces of disturbed agitation and some annoyance in there as well.
Duo went over to him and threw a friendly arm across his shoulders. “What’s going on, Trois?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”
Trowa’s faint facial expression deepened into a definite scowl. “I had a soap opera in my guest room last night. Given what’s going on right now, it was… difficult to listen to.”
That second statement made Duo feel slightly guilty. “You OK?”
“Yes,” Trowa sighed. “After what I found out about Quatre yesterday and then that, I was very upset last night… but I’m doing much better now.”
“Sorry,” Duo said, squeezing Trowa’s shoulders. “I should have warned you… Sano called us last night trying to figure out where that exorcist boyfriend of his was, and then he stormed off to tell him what he thought of him going to hide out at your house without telling Sano where he was going.”
“Well, he did that,” said Trowa. “And ‘boyfriend’ now appears to be the correct term, though it wasn’t before.”
This time Duo couldn’t restrain his grin. “I was so curious. Man, I wish I could have heard that conversation.”
Trowa shook his head dourly, but before he could make any further comment, the door opened.
Heero and Duo, as instructed by Trowa, had stationed themselves after work in Quatre’s office, in the hopes that divinations about Quatre would be more successful in a room that bore his psychic imprint. Trowa, when he’d arrived just a few minutes ago, had brought a box of candles — Duo wasn’t sure whether they were preserved from the old house or newly purchased — and set it on Quatre’s desk, so they were about as ready as they could be and only waiting for the actual diviner.
Now, as she entered, Duo felt his own tenseness increase. None of them knew whether Dorothy could be any help here, or, if she turned out to be, what they would learn from her divinations this evening — but Duo had his fingers crossed. This was, of course, in part because he loved having the ability to cross his wonderfully separable fingers, but the wish for good luck, for a positive answer to both questions, was also sincere.
Dorothy was accompanied by a girl of perhaps eight, who looked around the room with curious, calculating eyes. Duo smiled at her, but her gaze crossed him too quickly for her to notice (or at least to return) the expression. One thing he might be willing to admit he missed about the long doll years — if in a sort of paranoid, almost superstitious reluctance to do any such thing he was willing to admit to anything positive about the experience — was the opportunity to spend so much time with children. Happy as he was with his life now, he sometimes regretted that loss.
“Why don’t you sit here?” Dorothy suggested, having pulled one of the chairs beside Quatre’s desk into a position from which its occupant could easily watch whatever went on in the office in the next few minutes.
The little girl nodded her red-haired head and took the place indicated, folding hands in her lap and fixing her attention on the others in the room in a remarkably mature-looking gesture. Dorothy’s gesture, on the other hand, was remarkably predatory-looking as, satisfied with her niece’s behavior, she turned toward Trowa.
“Mr. Barton,” she said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to meet you. Ever since I heard about the amazing work you did for the Whitley family — I think I was still in high school at the time! — I’ve wanted to meet you. Dorothy Catalonia.”
Trowa accepted her warm, lingering handshake with a nod. “I can’t say I appreciated the Whitleys publicizing that,” he said, “but it’s over and done with now. Hajime tells me you’re a very good diviner.”
“I wouldn’t have thought there was anything I could help you with,” Dorothy replied curiously, letting go of Trowa’s hand at last, “though I’m certainly happy to try.”
“My divination is very weak,” was Trowa’s blunt response. “Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but right now I need to know where Quatre is.”
“I’m impressed that someone as powerful as you are is willing to admit weakness in some area.” Dorothy’s expression held genuine admiration, and she’d clasped her hands together so tightly they’d drained of what color her pale skin had. It was, Duo thought, a little creepy.
“I’m not necrovisual at all either,” Trowa said somewhat dryly, and turned toward the desk. “I don’t know if candles are your style, but I brought what I have.”
“Oh, excellent.” More businesslike now, Dorothy moved to join Trowa. “Heero told me someone is blocking.”
“I assume it’s deliberate, but I could be wrong,” Trowa nodded.
Dorothy gave him another appreciative look, but quickly transferred her attention back into the box on the desk. “And what are these?”
“All the records I have of the group I believe is blocking.” Trowa lifted a slim book and a manila envelope from among the candles and set them on the desk. “I think Quatre may be with them.”
Briefly but carefully, Dorothy flipped through the stiff pages of the old book. Then she lifted her eyes, clapped her hands, and said, “All right! Let’s have the whole story!”
As Trowa told it, Duo moved restlessly around the room, impatient to get started but knowing this was a necessary step. Trowa explained about La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré and what he knew of them while Duo looked out the windows onto the parking lot and nearby buildings; about the artifact and its creation and destruction while Duo reexamined the digital picture frame on the desk, picking it up and putting it back down again; about Quatre’s possession by the power of the artifact brought somewhat to life or undeath by the hypothetical anger of La Confrérie while Duo looked over the books — mostly corporate literature — on Quatre’s shelves; and about the most recent emails Quatre had sent before he disappeared while Duo tried again to get the little girl in the chair to smile at him.
In the latter endeavor he succeeded this time, but the kid’s smile was as calculating as her initial glance around the room had been. Duo was starting to think she might be every bit as creepy as her aunt.
Heero, who hadn’t spoken and had barely moved in quite some time, now took Duo’s hand and drew him to stand at his side — undoubtedly wishing Duo would hold still. Duo squeezed the hand and didn’t let go, and tried to stop fidgeting.
“So this group…” Experimentally Dorothy said the name, and her French pronunciation sounded better than Trowa’s, though Duo couldn’t be sure. “When they learned that Quatre destroyed this artifact they practically worshipped, it’s possible they kidnapped him for some kind of revenge.”
Trowa confirmed this summary with an emphatic, “Exactly. He’s alive — or was when I asked an hour ago — but I need to know where.”
In the same experimental tone she’d used to speak La Confrérie’s full title, but now in the magical language, Dorothy said, “Where is Quatre Winner?”
Everyone in the room was tense and silent for a long moment, and Duo struggled not to start moving aimlessly again. For his part, there was no answer whatsoever to the divinatory question, and when he glanced at his boyfriend he received a shake of head to indicate that Heero was having the same experience.
But a slow, fascinated smile had spread over Dorothy’s face as her strange eyebrows contracted somewhat and lowered. “Did you feel that?” she wondered.
Trowa nodded. “It’s the same as before.”
Again in the magical language she asked, “Where is La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré?”
This time Duo thought he could faintly make out what they were talking about: a dim muffled feeling, as if some answer should be manifesting but was cloaked from his senses. Not being a diviner himself, he’d never before, as far as he was aware, personally encountered divination-blocking, so this made for a fascinating experience.
Dorothy chuckled in triumph and increased interest. “Yes, it’s the same block. How stupid — if they don’t want anyone to know they’re connected with Quatre somehow, they shouldn’t have the same person blocking divinations about him and divinations about them.”
“Maybe they only have one diviner capable of blocking,” Trowa mused.
Purposefully, Dorothy started unloading candles from the box. As she did so, Duo was able to see that they were, in fact, the same ones Trowa had employed for the useless ritual he’d performed in March trying to figure out how to break the curse. Oh, but it hadn’t been entirely useless, had it? Now that Duo thought back, he recalled that it had been their first indication of Heero’s magical talents. He threw a grinning glance at his boyfriend, who returned the smile wryly.
When Duo turned back, he found Dorothy holding an armful of candles toward him. “Set these out,” she commanded.
Moving forward to take them from her, in which he was joined by Heero, Duo noticed there were more than five; Trowa must have brought the whole collection, which probably amounted to ten or fifteen. “Do you want them aligned or staggered or what?” he asked.
Dorothy glanced critically at the position of the furniture in the room, then pointed rapidly to five different spots. “Aligned.”
As Heero and Duo shifted chairs (including the red-headed girl) and arranged the candles in as even a set of five points as they could manage, with a second just inside the first, Dorothy went on. “Mr. Barton, can you temporarily disable the smoke detectors in here?” And when Trowa had considered for a moment, then cast a spell, Dorothy clasped her hands in delight once more. “Oh, I wouldn’t have thought to do it like that!” she said. “I would have based the fade on the presence of the candles, but your way is so much better. You really are impressive!”
“Are we ready?” was Trowa’s only response to this.
Again Dorothy gestured to spots in the room, within the double pentagonal shape formed by the candles and one of which was already occupied by her niece. “Four points, please.” And as the others took their places, she moved to the end of Quatre’s desk, roughly in the center of them all. Having pushed the few items that rested there out of the way, she leaned back against it so she was half seated, crossing one ankle over the other and looking around still with that intrigued and purposeful smile.
“Now, Mr. Barton, you may light the candles.” She stretched out interlaced fingers and cracked her knuckles in a gesture both casual and preparatory. “Let’s break this amateur div-block and find our Quatre.”
How upset was Trowa last night? Why is he doing better now? Read Consummate Timing to find out.
Though Dorothy started with the same divination she’d most recently attempted — “Where is La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré?” — it was significantly different now than before.
At her unnecessary bidding, all of them (except the somewhat familiar-looking niece whose name Heero did not yet know and whose brain was as self-contained as Dorothy’s) were concentrating on Quatre, their concern for him, and their desire to have him back among them. Dorothy had taken up the records Trowa had brought and, after removing a messy set of papers of various sizes from the envelope, clasped them to her chest. And the room was full of the scent of burning wax, and the hush of intense concentration.
All of this somehow — Heero didn’t really know how divination worked, but he could clearly feel this — greatly increased the power of Dorothy’s question. Her words in the magical language seemed to echo with the strength of her intention, a strength it felt as if no one and nothing could withstand. Here, then, was the answer to his wondering about just how ‘accomplished’ a diviner she was.
Something snapped. It reminded Heero of when Trowa had put out the fire in his house: some other magic was overridden so abruptly that it was like the shattering of old, brittle glass. The same muffled sense of hidden information that had arisen in response to this question before had come again as soon as Dorothy’s words were out, but had lasted for only an instant before it seemed as if a curtain was torn away from a clear, detailed scene.
The vision showed the interior of a large building like a warehouse, wide and open but for pillars here and there and free-standing walls that bore, like the perimeter, hanging paintings in a huge range of sizes. Completely undecorated besides these last, brilliantly lit by a multitude of electric lights as well as the sun through glass in the roof, uncarpeted, furnished with chairs and benches in an eclectic mix of styles, the place was a strange and probably would-be-artistic blend of utilitarianism and visual splendor.
“The art mostly has to do with the moon and magic,” Dorothy narrated. “They rotate it through the gallery in front, for viewing and for sale, and store it in the warehouse in back. Five dollars to get in, but two-fifty of that and a third of every art sale goes to a non-profit organization. The Confrérie owns this place, but they’re mostly volunteers with other jobs. This is more like a religion than a profession to them.”
“You are good,” Duo said, evidently inadvertently. In this he was voicing Heero’s thought aloud: how Dorothy had managed to read so much from what, though it had been a fairly detailed vision, hadn’t provided any such information to Heero’s understanding was utterly beyond him.
Dorothy ignored the praise and asked next, “What is the name of the art gallery owned by La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré?”
Predictably enough, it was Galerie de la Lune.
“Where is the Confrérie’s Galerie de la Lune located?” Dorothy asked.
The next vision provided a wide view of what was evidently the front of the place. It stood in flat, balconied multiple stories right against the street, which was full of other tall, old, stone buildings of similar design for a rather claustrophobic feel.
“Is that the French flag?” Duo demanded, voice and thoughts full of worry at the prospect. “Oh, but there’s the U.S. too, and the Confederate.”
“New Orleans,” Dorothy said with conviction. “French Quarter. Burgundy Street.”
Trowa sighed. “There are a few places in France I could have jumped to, but I don’t know New Orleans at all.”
“We don’t know for sure you’ll have to go there,” Heero tried to reassure him.
Getting right to the heart of that matter, Dorothy asked, “Is Quatre in New Orleans with La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré?”
Yes, he was.
“Damn,” Duo muttered.
“Is Quatre at the Confrérie’s Galerie de la Lune?”
This time, all three of Quatre’s close friends caught their breaths as the vision appeared: a small room of painted brick, at basement level to judge by the tiny closed horizontal windows against the low ceiling, furnished with a couple of filing cabinets, an old desk, and a camp bed — and on the latter, Quatre himself, barefoot in shorts and a t-shirt. The large fan pointed straight at him from the desktop seemed to be doing little for his mood; despite his casual pose, hands behind head and legs crossed as he stared upward from where he lay, he was scowling, and a sense of deep anger and unhappiness overwhelmed, at least for Heero, any other feeling that might have come along with the visual.
“There’s a suite of rooms in back connected to the warehouse,” said Dorothy. “They use them for offices and small storage, and right now for keeping Quatre in.”
“Have they hurt him?” Trowa demanded.
“Is he there willingly?” Heero asked.
“Is there even a bathroom?” Duo wondered.
Dorothy cocked her head as she decided which of these simultaneous questions to pursue first. After a moment she queried in the magical language, “What does La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré want with Quatre?”
The feeling of Quatre’s anger heightened, though the vision they’d been seeing faded, and no other answer came.
With a frustrated sound Dorothy reworded. “Does La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré want revenge on Quatre?”
It wasn’t a definite negative; it was more of a ‘no, not really.’ Still, even that much was reassuring.
“Then why does La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré want Quatre with them at Galerie de la Lune?”
Here was another vague answer with jumbled parts: aspects of a ritualistic spell like random pages of the schematic of an unknown mechanism; the continued, even stronger sense of Quatre’s anger; and an inconclusive visual of something on a chain, filigreed in silver, that vaguely resembled the moon.
This time, rather than Dorothy, it was Trowa, with another catch of breath, that understood. “They’re trying to extract the energy from him and create a new artifact with it.”
“That’s ambitious,” Dorothy remarked.
“Is that even possible?” Duo said.
“I don’t know.” Trowa looked grim. “What I’m more worried about is the effect on Quatre of whatever spells they try.”
“What method,” Dorothy asked in the magical language, “is La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré using to try to get artifact energy out of Quatre?”
The aspects of the spell presented more coherently this time, but it was still, to Heero, very much like seeing the entire mechanical schematic would be: he couldn’t make heads or tails of it, even in a state closer to complete, without a better idea of the whole. More interesting to him in any case was the new vision: a different basement room, bare except for the chair in its center and the symbols chalked across the walls and uncarpeted floor. Currently the only light came from the windows and an open door invisible at this angle, and the chamber was unoccupied, but the place was clearly set up and used for serious magical rituals.
Slowly Trowa observed, “They’ve altered the spell a couple of times and tried it again because it hasn’t worked so far.”
“Will it ever?” asked Duo. “I’ve never heard of anyone being able to directly move energy around like that.”
“Remember that they — their predecessors — deliberately put power into the first artifact.” Trowa could gradually be seen shaking his head as the latest vision faded. “It’s the extracting of energy from Quatre that seems likely to be the difficult part.”
Dorothy’s next divination was, “Will the spell La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré is using to try to extract energy from Quatre ever work?”
No, it would not.
She shrugged as she glanced over at Trowa. “So depending on how much you trust answers about the future, there you have it.”
Heero might have inquired whether answers about the future were typically unreliable, but heard confirmation of this guess in Duo’s thoughts and therefore said nothing. In fact, everyone was silent for several moments. Trowa looked unhappily pensive, Duo was pityingly picturing Quatre in that small and not very comfortable basement room two thousand miles from home, and Heero was trying to determine what else they needed to know while they had Dorothy here. Dorothy herself merely waited patiently, and the little red-haired girl in the chair, though she seemed to be listening with an intensity to match the interest Dorothy had suggested earlier, hadn’t said a word.
Finally Heero reiterated his earlier question. “Does Quatre want to be there? Was he actually kidnapped, or did he go with them willingly?”
Obligingly Dorothy made the same inquiry in slightly more concise words in the magical language, and thereby called up a poignant combined sense of duress, desire to get away from everyone that might be hurt by angry behavior, and a sort of indifference or recklessness arising from a hopeless lack of control of the situation.
“He didn’t really want to go…” Trowa began slowly.
“…but he saw it as a way to escape,” Heero finished for him at a murmur.
“So it was half a kidnapping,” was Duo’s assessment. “I wonder if he’s regretting it now.”
Now Dorothy asked whether Quatre was complying with the current wishes of La Confrérie. And it seemed he was — there were no weapons or restraints to be seen in the answering vision of Quatre being walked by strangers along a hall from the room in which he was staying to the one where the rituals took place — but Heero felt a definite sense of ‘for now,’ along with anger and the swift disintegration of already compromised patience, about the entire thing.
“What happens if he stops going along with them?” Duo wondered. “If he snaps? There’s no reason for him not to be just as mad as he was before…”
Uncertainly Heero suggested, “He might eventually use up the energy, like we were hoping at first…”
“Or they might actually get the spell right and pull the stuff out of him.” Duo sounded every bit as uncertain. “That answer could have been wrong.”
“Even if I thought they could get it right,” Trowa put in, folding his arms, “I don’t know that I’d want to leave them to it. I tried to use that energy for spellcasting once, as if Quatre were an artifact, and it actively hurt him.”
“If he’s still putting up with them trying whatever ritual over and over again, they’re probably not hurting him yet… but who knows when they might start? And…” Obviously Duo would rather not make the next part of this speculation out loud, but felt he had to. “And if they hurt him enough, it won’t matter if he doesn’t want to go along with them anymore. I mean, what if he’s too… damaged… by whatever they do to insist they let him go or try to leave on his own?”
Trowa took a deep breath, frowning with pursed lips.
“Dorothy,” Heero said, “can you find out–”
But he was interrupted, and every head turned, at just this moment. Because the little girl hadn’t spoken at all yet, and perhaps because she was a child among adults, the first sound of her high-pitched voice — bored, skeptical, yet somehow pert at the same time — from where she remained still in the chair with her hands in her lap induced instant silence, seized the room’s full attention:
“Um, do you really need to ask anything else? Obviously you need to just get on an airplane and go to New Orleans and rescue your friend.”
It was as if the little girl’s words had broken a curse that kept them all motionless and uncertain: abruptly it flashed upon them that she was absolutely right, and discussing possibilities only wasted time.
Heero was on his way to Quatre’s computer. Trowa was quietly speaking a spell to put out the candles. Dorothy had stepped away from where she’d been half seated on the desk and moved to sit more properly in the other chair in front of it. And Duo had moved to look down at this so unexpectedly incisive niece of his manager.
“You’re a smart kid,” he said as she returned his gaze calmly with a faint smile almost as calculating as the one she’d given him before.
“My teacher thinks so,” said the girl with some smugness.
“Your parents think so too,” Dorothy supplied. Her sharp expression looked very much like the girl’s. “And so do I.”
Duo might have asked what grade she was in, but honestly she still creeped him out a little. This was the type of kid that, back when Duo had been a doll, would engage him in disturbing role-plays involving far too much mature understanding of human psychology. He remembered one in which he’d been assigned the part of a serial killer eventually hunted down and forced to jump off a bridge to his death by police Barbies. Fun times. Right now, he made his way back around the desk to join Trowa seeing what Heero was looking up online.
“I think the closest place to New Orleans that I’m sure I could jump to is in Kansas or New Mexico,” the frustrated Trowa was saying as he watched the computer over Heero’s shoulder.
“And no chance of targeting Quatre?” Duo knew perfectly well there was none — Trowa would have jumped to Quatre long since if he could have used him as a destination — but he yet felt compelled to ask.
“None. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that again, with the way it combines command and communion, but if I can, it won’t be any time soon. A flight seems like my best option.”
“Um, our best option?” Duo replied in a skeptical, accusatory tone. “Remember how he’s with a magical cult that burned your house down?”
“And,” said Heero, quiet and emphatic, “remember how he’s my best friend?”
“Oh, yeah,” Duo recalled, “and remember how you don’t drive?”
“Of course,” Trowa replied, raising a hand as if to ward off the protests. “Don’t think I wouldn’t rather have you two with me. But this is going to be expensive enough for just one of us.”
“Let’s see how expensive,” Heero murmured. Now that the computer had finished booting and he’d entered his managerial login, he opened a browser and typed ‘cheap flights’ into the search bar. Then, on the first site that came up, he requested the price of a flight from here to New Orleans tomorrow.
When the icon in the center of the screen had finished spinning and a list, organized from lowest fare to highest, had populated, a collective groan arose.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Dorothy remarked from where she couldn’t see what they were looking at.
“Airplane rides are expensive,” was the niece’s wise input.
“There’s nothing under a thousand,” Heero informed the ladies grimly. And without another word he started opening every single site returned by his original search in separate tabs, and entering the same information into each one.
“Trowa, are you still super rich?” Duo wondered in some concern.
“I just bought a house,” Trowa replied in a horrified half whisper. “I don’t have even a thousand dollars left.”
Duo’s concern blossomed into something more like panic. “How much do you have?”
“Maybe half that much.”
“And I don’t have anything… I haven’t even gotten my first paycheck yet.” Duo stared at the screen in growing consternation. “Heero? Please tell me my responsible boyfriend saves lots of money all the time.”
“Your responsible boyfriend…” Heero sucked in a regretful breath through his teeth. “…has student loans he’s still paying off, and has been spending all his disposable income lately helping somebody born in 1899 experience the twenty-first century.”
“Damn me and my stupid… everything!” Taut fingers interwoven with his hair, Duo clutched at his head and made a sound of frustration. He’d always known it was inappropriate to let Heero buy him so much stuff. Why had he given in? Of course he couldn’t have guessed that he might be contributing to Quatre’s eventual peril in so doing, but he’d already had reasons to think it was a bad idea. If he’d just stuck to his guns–
“Hey,” said Heero firmly, turning fully toward Duo and tugging at one of his belt-loops to get his complete attention. “We’ve been over this. It wasn’t your fault, and I probably wouldn’t have twenty-five hundred saved anyway. OK?”
Staring down into Heero’s earnest face, Duo took a deep breath and removed his hands from his hair. “Yeah, OK,” he said. “OK. So what else can we do?”
“I would be happy to lend you guys some money,” Dorothy put in at this point, causing hope to rise in every heart for approximately two seconds before she finished, “if I hadn’t just taken an expensive vacation.”
Silence fell while Heero continued to enter airports and tomorrow’s date into various websites. “Here’s a nine-fifty,” he said presently, not with much enthusiasm.
“I thought adults had credit cards,” the little red-headed girl mused.
A lot of headshaking came in response to this, and explanations from three of the four adults:
“I barely even have a legal identity,” Duo said.
“I already have enough debt,” Heero said.
“Mine is maxed at the moment,” Dorothy said. At a surprised look from Heero, she added, “And it’s only got a $600 limit anyway. I used it for food on my trip.”
“Where did you eat?” Heero wondered incredulously. “You were only gone a week.”
“I treated myself,” was Dorothy’s lofty answer. “A vacation is a vacation.”
“I believe we have three options to get to New Orleans tomorrow.” Trowa spoke as if he’d been completely ignoring the conversation in favor of thinking hard and fast. “First, I could get in touch with my contacts and see if I can borrow enough money for a couple of plane tickets. I’m still not in much of a position to offer favors in return, and I have many more email addresses than phone numbers, meaning it sometimes takes a while for people to get back to me — so this isn’t a sure option, but it’s still an option.
“Or, if we can decide on just one of us to go, I’m sure we can scrape up enough for a single ticket among ourselves.” When Duo started to protest this, Trowa overrode him. “I know it’s a bad idea; I know you two want to come, and I want you with me. But we have to look at all our options. It would be better for one of us to go alone tomorrow than to wait for something cheaper who knows how many days from now.”
“Fine,” Duo agreed. “So what’s the third option?”
“Ask Quatre’s parents for a loan.”
Everyone turned this over in silence for several moments. Finally Heero said slowly, “They would probably have the money to lend, but I think asking them for it would involve telling them everything.”
“Yes, I think so too,” Trowa replied.
“How will Quatre feel if he finds out you’ve told his parents everything while he was gone?”
“He wants them told. I think you heard him accuse me of not wanting to have that conversation even after five months.”
“And do you want to have that conversation?” For the gentleness in Heero’s tone, Duo loved him.
Trowa shook his head. “I don’t think it matters. If we could convince them, it would be the quickest way to get the money, and the most convenient way for you two to get time off to go help their son.”
Duo hadn’t thought of this, but Trowa was right; this was the big boss they were talking about. That ‘if we could convince them,’ however, remained ominously hovering over the proposed venture. “What if they say no?” he wondered.
“Then I send another mass email, and call everyone whose number I have, begging for money,” said Trowa flatly. “And if that doesn’t work, I go alone.”
It was rational, Duo had to admit. It wasn’t a very pleasant prospect, but it seemed like a logical multi-layered plan that would put someone in New Orleans tomorrow no matter what succeeded and what failed. “Good thinking,” he said soberly. “So how do we start?”
“By getting Mr. and Mrs. Winner to meet us at my house, if we can. I’ll go to them if I have to, but I’d rather not invade their home for this kind of conversation, especially since I may have to demonstrate magic for them and it would be better if they’re the only ones present.”
“Mr. Barton,” Dorothy said, rising from her seat, “I think you’re underestimating what your fans are willing to do for you, favors or no favors.”
“Even if I am,” Trowa replied, “I still think talking to the Winners is a quicker and more certain first option.”
Dorothy shrugged. “I’m sure that what Mr. Trowa Barton thinks is best is best, and I wish you all the luck in the world.”
Trowa stepped over to her with the offer of another handshake. “Thank you very much for all your help in this matter,” he said gravely. “We would still be in the dark without you.”
“It’s my pleasure. It was amazing to meet you and work with you. I’ll be very interested to hear how this all turns out, and to see how Quatre’s doing once you bring him back.” Having said this, Dorothy turned to where her niece had risen as well and added, “Shall we go?”
The little girl nodded, and together, avoiding the candles that still decorated the floor, she and Dorothy headed for the door.
“Thanks, Dorothy,” Heero offered from the desk.
“Yeah, thanks a ton,” Duo reiterated.
She threw that sharp smile of hers over her shoulder and said by way of goodbye, “I’ll expect not to see either of you here tomorrow.”
The little girl, on the heels of her aunt, also turned back to glance at them before leaving, and the disdainful young voice offered one last piece of advice: “Try not to be stupid about things, and maybe you’ll do OK.”
“Yeah, thanks for that,” Duo muttered, shivering slightly, when the door had closed. Then he shook himself and turned to where Heero was shutting down the computer, Trowa standing still looking contemplative. “All right, now what?”
Trowa’s pacing of his nearly empty first floor could almost be called ‘prowling,’ but it accomplished very little. He’d come back to his house ahead of the others (not that this was unusual, given their different modes of transportation) to ensure it looked as respectable as possible before Mr. and Mrs. Winner arrived, but there wasn’t much he could do toward that end. He’d brought his armchair down from the study to face the one piece of furniture here in the living room, and readied a couple of the dishes that remained to him so as to be able to offer his guests tea, and that was about as far as his preparations could extend.
They’d eventually decided that Heero, as a friend of longer standing, should be the one to make the call to Quatre’s parents and try to convince them to come to Trowa’s house. What he’d said to them Trowa didn’t know, just as he had no idea how Heero had managed to get Quatre to agree to see an exorcist last week, but Heero’s Winner-persuasion skills had evidently sufficed: he’d sent a text to confirm his success and that he and Duo were on their way here now.
Upon their arrival, there was a general milling about in subdued agitation very much like back in May when they’d waited for the curse to break. Here, though, just the opposite of Heero’s apartment, large and largely unfurnished rooms made for plenty of empty space to pace through. Duo still managed to get in Heero’s way repeatedly, and Trowa thought he might have been doing it on purpose in an attempt to alleviate some of the tension.
When the doorbell rang, they all jumped for it, but even Duo, after his immediate vigorous motion toward the entry, restrained himself from joining Trowa. The latter took a deep breath, readied a look of sober but friendly welcome, and went to open the door.
Aside from expressions that matched Trowa’s fairly neatly, Mr. and Mrs. Winner appeared as he’d ever seen them: they each had a tendency to dress — as was only to be expected in a couple old enough to be Quatre’s grandparents rather than his parents — in clothing that, though it seemed nothing particularly unusual to Trowa, he knew to be somewhat old-fashioned. In fact Trowa believed his own outdated wardrobe had won him points with at least the father, whose good-natured ribbing regarding coats with tails had seemed also to hold a touch of approval.
Now as this gentleman greeted Trowa, his wife had stepped into the entryway and was looking around with interest. “Yes, good evening!” she echoed. “Heero mentioned you’d just moved into town. It seems like a lovely house.”
Though the days were long past of soliciting parental approval and permission to remove their offspring from under their own protective roof to that of a hopeful suitor, Trowa couldn’t help feeling some pleasure at this statement of approbation, even if, that very night, he’d had cause to regret buying a home so large and fine. But that same offspring, and not the protective roof, was what they had met for, as Mr. Winner reminded them: “We’re here to discuss Quatre, not the house.”
“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Winner agreed, her gravity increasing. Turning to Trowa she added, “Heero said it was important.”
“Come sit down.” Trowa led the way through the echoing front room into the next and gestured to the sofa. “We have a lot to talk about. Would you like some tea?”
Busy first greeting the friends waiting in the living room and then examining with some interest and curiosity the sofa that was draped over with a large white sheet, the Winners neglected to answer Trowa’s question immediately; but when they were seated, Mrs. Winner, often the more courteous of the two, accepted the offer on behalf of both of them.
“I don’t know whether Heero mentioned it,” Trowa said as he moved to pour the tea and bring it out from the adjoining kitchen, “but my previous house burned down. I apologize for the sheet, but that smoke-damaged sofa and the chair there are all the seats I have left.”
Though Mr. and Mrs. Winner made sounds of surprise and sympathy at what was apparently news, Trowa didn’t allow them time to interject with questions or comments. “I’m somewhat attached to this sofa,” he went on as he handed them their cups, “and giving it up would have meant reducing the amount of furniture I have left even further.” As he settled down across from them into his own chair he finished, “I haven’t given up hope of getting the smoke stains out.”
Mr. Winner appeared a little impatient at this ostensibly irrelevant topic. Though Mrs. Winner also seemed somewhat confused, still she did her part in maintaining the conversation by shaking her head and saying with polite regret, “If it’s been a few days, even an expert might not be able to get it out now.”
“I wasn’t planning on a restoration service.” Trowa spoke with perfectly level coolness. “I’m going to try to do it with magic. I just haven’t had a chance to work out a spell for cleaning smoke out of upholstery yet.”
This lead-up wasn’t much smoother than talking about the sofa had been all along, but Trowa considered it better than plunging in with no introduction whatsoever.
Now Mr. Winner looked even more impatient than before, though, to judge by certain twitches of his white mustache, he seemed to be trying to come up with a jovial response and match his wife’s willingness to maintain the conversation. Once again, however, it was she that spoke first. She had undergone no change in facial expression, and her words were calm and pleasant:
“A good friend of mine, who seems perfectly rational in every other area, sometimes talks about magic and spells just like that — seriously, as if it’s a real part of her life. I hadn’t considered you the type for that kind of thing, Trowa.”
“Would you like to see some magic?” Trowa offered with the same levelness as before.
“We would like,” Mr. Winner answered, “to know what about Quatre Heero was so anxious to have us come here to discuss.”
Trowa gave a slight nod acknowledging the reasonableness of this request, but still had to insist. “This is relevant.”
Mr. Winner made a disbelieving noise. “Whatever you know about Quatre, you should just tell us.”
“No, it isn’t.” This sudden firm statement from Heero didn’t seem congruous with the discussion thus far, but when Mr. Winner gave Heero a sharp, startled look it seemed to Trowa that it must have been in response to an unspoken thought.
“I told you before it’s not his fault,” Heero went on quietly from where he stood beside Trowa’s chair. “We’ll explain everything, but you need to see this first.” And he broke the held gaze he’d been sharing with Mr. Winner and turned his head toward Trowa in a gesture that the latter should proceed.
Trowa took a deep breath as his boyfriend’s parents, with mixed expressions of surprise, concern, curiosity, and annoyance, granted him their full attention again.
He’d given this as much thought as time and agitation had allowed, and come to the conclusion that an early demonstration was a better idea than half an hour’s unconvincing dissertation on the subject (undoubtedly followed by a demonstration); then it only remained to determine which spells would be the most quickly and thoroughly convincing. Some he’d dismissed as being too easily mistaken for sleight of hand, others as requiring the setup of rituals he didn’t have resources for at the moment, and eventually he’d settled on a couple he hoped would be effective. Now it was time to find out.
He began by summoning objects from his office. This was a simple enough spell, especially given that he’d laid the things out in two neat rows on his table up there in preparation for it, and, with only the handful of items he planned on summoning, not at all tiring. The first book appeared out of nowhere, a few feet away from Trowa so as to look less like something he might have had beside him on the chair and a few inches above the carpet so as to cause some motion and a slight sound as it fell.
The people on the couch had been staring at Trowa, puzzled by the sound of the unfamiliar language in which he spoke his spell, but now Mrs. Winner’s head turned toward where movement had caught her eye. Her brow-lowered gaze remained on the innocent-looking object on the floor — clearly evincing the question in her head, “Was that there before?” — until a second book, in response to Trowa’s next spell, thumped down on top of the first, and she started visibly.
There followed an additional couple of volumes, a pack of cards, an empty cup, and Trowa’s desk lamp — which retained for half an instant the electric glow of having been plugged in up until now before going dark and toppling over. By the time this small pile had accumulated, both Winners were watching it with some concentration. The advent of objects had ceased to startle, but contemplation and some astonishment was written plainly in the bearing of each watcher.
“I know this is a very mundane demonstration,” Trowa said as he rose from his chair. Then with another spell he jumped from where he stood to the far side of the kitchen counter, fifteen or so feet away. This caused Mr. Winner also to rise and jump — though his motion was merely a non-magical springing to his feet off the sofa, dropping his cup and spilling tea onto the floor as he did so.
“I hope it convinces you,” Trowa continued in a louder tone, drawing the surprised gaze of both Winners toward his new position and causing the husband to take a step in that direction, “that I have magical abilities.” His next spell took him into the front room, so that when he finished his statement the startled snapping of attention brought the Winners’ heads ninety degrees around. “Magic is a normal part of life for many people — such as that friend you mentioned, most likely, Mrs. Winner.” Calmly he walked back toward them, gesturing to where Heero still stood beside his chair and Duo sat on the step up out of the sunken living room area. “These friends of mine are both magicians as well.”
Trowa resumed his seat, facing the still-standing Mr. Winner and his motionless wife, in whose faces it would have been difficult to pinpoint a single dominant emotion. The primary concern of their complex frames of mind, however, was soon evident as Mrs. Winner said in a baffled, worried murmur, “And Quatre?”
Her husband took up the query with an almost combative air, not bothering to restrain the disapproval in his glare at Trowa or the accusatory tension in his frame. “Yes! What does all of this have to do with our son?”
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.