How Duo got through the trip to New Orleans he supposed he would never know. Prior events had rendered unfeasible sitting still and thinking, and the whole plan had been so last-minute that he hadn’t brought anything with which to entertain himself. The flight, of course, did have some engrossing features, but these were not nearly as distracting as they would have been prior to Trowa’s revelation… and whiling away the time by talking to either of his companions was obviously out of the question.
He did eventually insist, in as friendly a tone as he could command, that they buy some in-flight refreshments. This had a threefold purpose: first, because Duo couldn’t imagine neglecting this important part of an airplane ride; second, to get some caffeine into everyone’s system for the upcoming confrontation, whatever it might be; and, third, as proof that, while some on Duo’s part might be less than perfectly soft, there were at least no hard feelings that would survive a proper discussion after their important business had been dealt with.
And eventually they did arrive. At their destination it became easier to think exclusively about what they were here to do and about poor Quatre than about what he’d been striving all day to push aside. He hated having to push it aside, having to put off confronting it and getting everything worked out, but that was what the situation demanded. And at least the interestingly humidity, the sights and sounds of another airport, the process of locating the proper car rental place, the extraction from their backpack of the map they’d carefully made back home, and the fascination of getting the feel of an entirely new car were distracting and invigorating circumstances.
Still, it was at least seven minutes into the twenty-five they spent driving away from the airport before anyone said anything more than was absolutely required. Heero, looking up at last from the map in which he’d been rather unnecessarily buried (since the route to the part of Burgundy Street they needed was fairly simple), took a deep breath as if steeling himself and said, “We should decide what we’re going to do when we get there.”
“My guess,” Trowa replied reluctantly from the back seat, “is that at least some of the members of this group will recognize me on sight, and I don’t know how they’ll react. It may not be a good idea for me to walk straight in there.”
Heero nodded. “So you wait in the car while Duo and I go into the gallery and see if I can pick up anything helpful from anyone’s head.”
“Not in the car,” Duo put in. “Remember, the place we’re parking is, like, half a block from the gallery? He’ll want to be closer than that.”
At his words, he thought the tension among them palpably lessened. Though he didn’t feel he’d been in the wrong with his reactions, it only made sense that his friends had been wary of him since his very obvious displeasure with both of them on the airplane; it was good for them all to come back from the edge they’d been on and focus on the matter at hand. Not that the matter at hand was all that far from the edge to begin with. But perhaps this was a different edge.
“Outside, then,” Trowa amended. “Maybe just around the corner. Then you can text me anything you think I need to know, and I’ll join you whenever it seems best.”
They spent the rest of the drive fine-tuning this admittedly very basic plan in much greater ease of interaction than they’d had all day, and the atmosphere among them had decidedly improved by the time they reached the parking garage for whose use they’d already paid online last night.
It felt surreal to walk, thereafter, through early-evening streets that, while certainly novel and picturesque and enjoyable to someone only relatively recently human, were still just normal streets. It seemed as if there should be more to this, more required of them to get to where Quatre was, and it called to Duo’s mind something Heero had once said: “That’s it? No blood sacrifice? No dragons to fight or Nome Kings to outwit?” Of course the real test was yet to come, since they had no idea how La Confrérie would react to their presence and their demands, but at the moment their heroic endeavors toward the rescue of their friend amounted to getting on an airplane and driving a rental car (neither of which they’d paid for), then walking half a block. It seemed too easy.
“Knock on wood,” Heero murmured as he evidently picked up on this reflection. Duo gave a brief, grim laugh.
Galerie de la Lune was exactly as they’d seen it in the vision Dorothy had provided with her divination, but in person could be examined at greater leisure and in more detail. Clearly the place had undergone many a repurposing since it had been built several decades or even over a century ago and gone since then undamaged, like much of the neighborhood, by hurricane and flood. The doors opening onto the balconies on the front of the building had evidently long been sealed up, probably because (as could already be observed through the windows even from outside) the interior second floor no longer existed.
A number of poles bearing multicolored banners stood out at regular intervals from the balcony railings, and though at the moment a lack of any wind hid many of their designs from sight, Duo remembered a few of them from the vision: besides the United States flag that was easily recognized even in a half folded state, there was that of France, something with fleur-de-lis on it, and a couple in black with white crescents of various widths.
The hand-painted, mural-style sign that identified the place against a backdrop of colorful nebulae and glittering stars, with an enormous moon in the foreground beneath the word ‘Lune,’ he remembered from the divination, but now he had time to read the sign beside the door as well:
Celebrating magic and the revered moon since 1874
New display every month Most art available for purchase
½ of every $5 admission and ⅓ of every art sale donated
To Mercy Corps for the assistance of Hurricane Katrina victims
As Duo’s eyes ran over the hours the gallery was open to the public, then the other half of the sign that said presumably the same things in French, he remarked in some interest, “This place is older than we are, Trois.” But when he looked up to find his friend and get his reaction, he found that Trowa had fallen out of step with them and was waiting, as discussed, in the shadows between this building and the previous. Duo nodded, waved briefly at him, and turned back toward the door.
“Ready?” Heero murmured, reaching for the handle. When Duo nodded again, Heero opened the way forward, and they both went inside.
They found their view of the bulk of the interior immediately blocked by a large false wall of canvas on which was painted a giddy set of conflicting images advertising the current show. The path further in was strung across with a velvet rope beside which stood a bored-looking employee. Less bored-looking was the woman behind the desk that, with its fantastic painted color scheme, was almost camouflaged against the equally colorful canvas behind. The woman herself appeared somewhat new-agey with her long dress that melted from white to pale grey to deep blue and back and her jewelry composed of various stones, and the silver moons scattered throughout made her fit right in at Galerie de la Lune.
“Hi! Come on in!” she greeted them. “Tomorrow’s the last day of our Vitalité show, so you’ve made it just in time!” Duo had been expecting a southern accent such as he’d heard in passing during the walk from the parking garage, but was disappointed to find that she sounded as dully Midwestern as he did himself. “It’s five dollars per person.”
With a gravity disproportionate to the role of casual museum-goer, Heero nodded, withdrawing his wallet and stepping toward the desk without a word. When he’d paid for their entry, it looked like he would again have said nothing, only given another nod and turned away, but he rallied himself — perhaps in response to Duo’s mental concern that his silence seemed a little unnatural — and gave instead a verbal thanks. Still, Duo thought the woman was watching them curiously as they bypassed the velvet rope lifted for them by the other employee.
This latter said nothing to them, but as they walked away he made some low comment to his co-worker, and Duo was pleased to catch the accent he’d been waiting to match up to those he imperfectly remembered from the last time he’d been in Louisiana some sixty years before.
“The woman thinks I’m an Asian tourist who probably doesn’t speak much English,” Heero murmured, sounding faintly amused.
Duo laughed absently, his attention straying to the free-standing wall and the paintings thereon that were obviously designed to give a striking first impression of the gallery’s current collection. And striking they were. Unsurprisingly, the main feature, on a canvas perhaps eight feet tall and half as wide, showed the moon in a set of completely unnatural yet very attractive lime greens and bright yellows that made the scene look more like a flower garden than a cold view of space. This was surrounded by contrastingly small square pictures asymmetrically arranged, in complementing colors and often themes, so that the whole setup, not excluding the little white informational tag next to each, came together in an effect greater than the sum of its parts. At least, so Duo thought.
“They’re trying to decide how to pronounce my last name on the credit card receipt,” Heero said next.
“Nothing useful so far, then.” Duo glanced around, taking in at once a feeling of openness and distance created by the ceiling full of skylights far above and an almost mazelike quality to the moveable walls of varying heights set up throughout what seemed to be a fairly vast area — probably the majority of the building having been cleared of individual rooms. “Anyone else in here?”
Heero frowned faintly. “I think there are at least two more people, but they’re further away. Come on.” He took Duo’s arm and guided him into walking around the first display.
Next they found themselves in a sort of lane between another pair of free-standing walls, these full of colorful images of very inaccurate and dramatic-looking spellcasting. Of course the art La Confrérie collected did not necessarily need to show real magic when fictional portrayals could celebrate the practice just as well, but some of the poses and dazzling visible effects shown here were a little silly. Duo, however, didn’t spend very long looking at any of the many paintings arranged along this aisle, as a large piece down at the end had seized his attention and drawn him toward it.
Heero moved with him as if similarly compelled, and they came to a halt at a T-junction facing the picture on the next wall, staring in mutual discomfort for several long, still moments.
“That’s definitely Trowa,” Duo said at last, in a near whisper.