“Still 100% failure, guys! Is there some magical record you’re going for for the highest number of attempts at a spell without doing one single damn thing right?”
The spellcasters had taken to ignoring Quatre completely when he started in on them, which meant his verbal attacks weren’t nearly as relieving as on previous days… but he’d become so accustomed to doing it that he wasn’t going to bother trying to stop himself.
“We need to take Roussel out of the wording when Becotte’s not around to concentrate on him,” one of them was insisting, as he had several times already. “He’s the only one who cares enough about Roussel personally for it to make a difference.”
“Mentioning Roussel is absolutely essential to a spell designed to manage the energy from Roussel’s artifact,” someone else said, the slight weariness of her tone a reflection of the fact that she too had made this argument several times already.
“I don’t even have any magical abilities,” Quatre put in derisively, “and I could be less completely useless than you failures at this.”
“The energy itself wasn’t Roussel’s, though,” the third remarked doubtfully.
“Where did everyone go?” wondered the first.
Quatre had been aware that something must be happening out in the parts of the building he wasn’t really familiar with ever since the spectators and concentrators had quietly left the room in the middle of the ritual. At the time he hadn’t said anything — not only because he’d been warned very seriously about the dangers of interrupting a spell like this, but because the damn thing was painful and whatever he might have said would probably have come out as an inarticulate groaning snarl — and he didn’t feel like saying anything now because he honestly didn’t give a crap what the obnoxious extraneous Confrérie members were up to.
“Buh,” said one of the people that remained in the room with him.
“That sounded really stupid even for you guys.” Quatre turned in his chair to glance at the source of the idiotic noise, giving as he did so a frustrated grunt of his own. The sensations of whatever the hell they did during their worthless rituals tended to linger for a few minutes, so it still felt as if his body was being pulled in several directions at once, threatening to tear apart, every time he moved. And that was only top of a headache that never had gone away.
In growing curiosity and irritation, Quatre scowled as he observed not merely the person he’d been looking for but all three of the Confrérie members around him heading toward the floor: one sitting down deliberately, cross-legged, and leaning against a chalk-covered wall; one sinking to his knees so sluggishly it almost looked as if he’d somehow been cast into slow motion in real time; and the last simply toppling forward and face-planting onto the concrete, losing her glasses in the process, in a movement that looked extremely uncomfortable but for which Quatre had little room for pity at the moment. What was going on?
And then a voice he knew extremely well said his name from the direction of the door.
No. No. Trowa could not be here now — now, when Quatre had spent the last week deliberately getting into the habit of saying aloud every last nasty, irrational thing he could think of in order to work off some of his anger; now, to see the spirit-extinguishing depths of powerlessness Quatre had sunken to, the wretchedly different person he’d become; now, when the unhealed Quatre could not accept, could not allow anything he loved near him lest he ruin it forever.
Remaining in his uncomfortable twisted position in his chair, unseeing eyes fixed on the collapsed Confrérie member behind it, Quatre took a deep, shuddering, stabbing breath. He wanted to look around and confirm Trowa’s presence, because, little as he wanted Trowa here, he wanted Trowa here with a desperate ferocity that stiffened his entire body and made his pressurized head throb. He wanted to run to him, cling to him and never let go… but he couldn’t allow himself to try to take comfort in something that would only force him to admit how much he needed comfort, how completely out of his control was his situation.
And what emerged around his clenched teeth was, “Why the hell are you here, Trowa?”
The quiet reply, “To bring you home,” came so immediately and earnestly that it erased any idea of wishful thinking or that Quatre might actually be collapsed like the spellcasters around him and dreaming that one of the things he wanted most in the world had come to pass. The word ‘home’ spoken in Trowa’s voice seemed to lance into him and draw blood, and it must be impossible to deny how ardently he longed to go there with the man he loved.
But what he said was, “You just decided that, did you? ‘Time to pick Quatre up from daycare,’ was it?”
“Come home,” said Trowa as quietly and seriously as before, “and we’ll get this problem fixed.”
“Seems to me you’ve got plenty of problems of your own to worry about before you try to fix someone else’s.” Quatre still hadn’t turned, and the twisting of his chest and stomach was becoming worse than the fading pain from the ritual. He wanted so much to look around, to see Trowa’s face that he so missed, to seek solace there, but he just couldn’t. “Why don’t you work on that instead of trying to make my choices for me?”
“We need to get you out of here.” Did Trowa sound somewhat hurt? Trowa sounded somewhat hurt. Quatre had hurt him again, had done specifically what he’d come here to avoid doing.
Squeezing his eyes shut against the irate tears burning them, Quatre shouted, “I didn’t ask you to come here!” Except that he had — every moment he’d been here, he’d been silently calling to Trowa with all of his angry heart. “It’s not your responsibility to fix my problems!” Except that Quatre’s own attempt at fixing his problems had failed so miserably; someone absolutely needed to intervene. “You need to mind your own damn business!” Please don’t leave me. “Just get out of here!” Please don’t leave me!
“We won’t leave you.” It was Heero’s voice, quieter than Trowa’s, more horrified, but perhaps equally hurt. Was everyone Quatre most cared about here to see him in his weakness, this supreme state of wretched, culpable, powerless rage and misery?
“We’re not going anywhere without you,” Trowa agreed, and audibly took two firm steps into the room.
Clearly set in motion by these familiar and beloved voices, something was building inside Quatre, perhaps toward a climax of sorts, as if all the anger and unhappiness was coming to a boil. He couldn’t go much longer like this, having an exchange if not entirely rational at least composed of the usual back-and-forth of conversation. What would happen when this peaked he didn’t know, didn’t want to know, but it couldn’t be much longer.
Finally he turned, though his emotions didn’t untwist along with his body, and took one single, brief look at his friends that had come so far to rescue him: at Trowa’s solemn face, shocking in how much Quatre loved the sight of it after what felt like an eternity apart, and his slightly outstretched hand that offered reunion and comfort Quatre could not allow himself to accept; at Heero’s stiff form in the doorway, features appalled and pitying; and, oh, was Duo here too? Quatre should have expected that. But the sight of him peeking around Heero with concerned and would-be-helpful eyes — again, offering comfort Quatre simply could not accept — was as infuriating as that of the other two. Burning with directionless fury, Quatre could feel the shrinking of the fuse that had been lit inside him.
“They took my phone,” he snapped, standing and moving forward so abruptly that he kicked the horrible old chair over and probably into the face of one of the Confrérie members behind. “I have to find it.” And he pushed past his friends, avoiding a second look at any of them or even touching them lest the touch become a blow before he could stop it, into the hall.
Though he’d momentarily escaped the ritual room and the people in and around it, he had not escaped and could not escape the turmoil inside himself. The heat was still rising, warping his vision and turning his steps into stumbles as he made his way toward the locked office where he believed his cell phone had been held hostage ever since he’d arrived in this terrible place. This maneuver had bought him time, but whether it would do any good in the long run he couldn’t tell.
The door opened under his hand — whether because La Confrérie had left it unlocked or because of something Trowa had done, Quatre neither knew nor cared — which was fortunate, since he would otherwise have kicked it or even thrown himself against it until it let him in. Now he knocked aside the chair he encountered and started ransacking the desk beyond half blindly, looking for something he was only partially certain was there. What he would do with his phone if he found it he wasn’t sure; he just needed some pursuit that would turn his anger away from his friends and give him some time to try to get even the faintest hold on himself.
It felt good to rip out the squeaky drawers, empty them onto the floor, then throw them across the room, and he thought there might be some hope of working off enough of his surface-level emotion that he could manage to articulate some thoughts that did not arise purely from a wrathful desire to strike and wound… even if the sight of everything in this desk that was not the phone he was looking for took him another step back toward the anger and away from rationality.
Though it was a couple of minutes before he discovered what he sought in nearly the last drawer, nobody accosted him and none of his friends had followed him into the room. Deeply relieved that they’d had the sense to see the intolerability of their presence at the moment, Quatre was simultaneously hurt and increasingly irate that they weren’t bothering to help him, to continue insisting he come home with them, or to offer further comfort he couldn’t possibly countenance. As he waited for his phone to turn on, bombarded by conflicting emotions and waiting in helpless tension to see whether or not he was going to be able to avoid the critical mass he’d already predicted, he listened to what he thought was shuffling and breathing just outside the door where he couldn’t see.
The phone’s little startup jingle had been annoying, but nothing compared to what happened now the device had finished booting and located its signal. Had the evidently brainless designers really been able to think of no good reason for playing a single text tone to indicate the presence of multiple unread messages? In the cacophony of text tone after text tone, continually overriding each after the first two notes, the voicemail sound (which did only play once for multiple messages) was mostly lost, and the email icon appeared subtly at the top of the screen without any audible indication in the midst of the din.
Increasingly agitated and headachy as he tried to wait this out, Quatre came gradually to hold the phone at arm’s length in distaste for the jarringly repetitive sounds, and he felt his stomach clench as it struck him just how much of his life he’d missed lately. He’d transformed monstrously, hurt everyone he loved, run away to Louisiana to absolutely no benefit, and left everything behind in shambles. What was there to go home to besides a greater ordeal?
When the aggravating chiming finally stopped, he found his hands trembling slightly as he dragged down the alert bar to see what he’d missed since dropping out of contact with his entire world. And when he was greeted with the information that he had 33 texts, 14 voice messages, and 27 emails, that was, somehow, the final straw, the catalyst needed to bring about the emotional apogee he’d been dreading.
With a roaring sob he hurled his phone away from him in a motion like a hard tennis smash that resulted in a loud crack against a wall, but he didn’t see what had actually happened to the missile since his eyes had entirely clouded over with an upwelling of uncontrollable tears. Everything around him was hot chaos, anger, despair, throbbing pain, and voices crying out his name; it crashed over him like a tidal wave, tossing and battering and drowning his sprit.
When he felt someone take hold of him, try to draw him into insistent arms as if for a consoling embrace, he fought back viciously, striking out against the nearby body with both fists. He couldn’t; he couldn’t; there was nothing of that in this hell; there was nothing left but rage and suffering.
“I did tell you it would be better to let us knock him out too,” said an unknown voice, sounding completely unperturbed, in the midst of the others calling out to Quatre.
“I’m going to jump him home,” replied another voice, very familiar and very close by. It slipped around behind him, evading his flailing blows and speaking in the magical language, as arms clamped decisively around his waist. Then a sudden disorienting weightlessness briefly paralyzed Quatre’s lungs, so that when he next drew breath it was of different air in a distinctly different place.