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 In fact Trowa believed his own outdated wardrobe had won him points with at least the father, whose good-natured ribbing regarding coats with tails had seemed also to hold a touch of approval.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?”

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