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?”