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.
No verbal indication of Quatre’s thoughts was necessary for Trowa to understand or at least put a name to them. Hadn’t he, after all, spent the better part of the last hundred years hating himself for something he’d once done? Even if his guilt had arisen in consequence of actual misbehavior, whereas the innocent Quatre’s was entirely misplaced, that didn’t make the mental state less recognizable or less in need of repair.
Not long ago, Trowa’s initial response to a situation like this would have been to withdraw in silence, to remove his obtrusive presence and allow the sufferer to recover in solitude in his own good time — and even now, this was somewhat his first instinct. But there was little or no inclination left to obey that lingering impulse. It would be unthinkable here and now.
Moving slowly, trying not to startle his lover, he slid over to Quatre and put his arms around him. Despite Trowa’s best efforts, Quatre stiffened and made a harsh noise of discontentment, but did not resist the proximity or the contact. In fact he leaned closer, as he had last night, and continued his lamenting against Trowa’s chest.
“This isn’t your fault,” Trowa told him. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”
Surprisingly, Quatre’s sounds of unhappiness transformed into laughter. It was bitter, rough, and brief, but it definitely acknowledged some absurdity. “I guess,” he said brokenly, his faltering voice muffled by Trowa’s chest, “compared to what you feel like you did wrong, everything I’ve done lately wouldn’t seem like much.”
“You didn’t turn anyone into a doll for eighty-seven years,” Trowa agreed. “But I can’t think very badly of anything else you’ve done, either.”
“Trowa!” Quatre sat up and cast almost accusingly skeptical tear-reddened eyes on him, but quickly removed them from Trowa’s face as his expression melted into one of misery again. “I hit you, hard enough for it to bruise already! I made you guys go all the way to Louisiana trying to find me, and I don’t even know how you got there… I’ve forced these two–” he gestured to where the altercation between Hajime and Sano had ranged into the front room– “to fight, to actually fight each other… I’ve said all sorts of unforgivable things to my best friends, including you, and poor Heero… I’ve made life miserable for my family and everyone at home and at work — oh, god, those performance reviews! I’ve been actively hurting everyone for weeks… how can you possibly say you don’t think badly of all of that?!”
“It… hasn’t been pleasant,” Trowa admitted, deliberately understating with greater smoothness than he’d expected of himself. “But none of that was actually your fault.”
Now Quatre faced him, looking indignant, and Trowa had to remind himself that the exorcism wasn’t complete; Quatre still had energy remaining, and therefore must still be angered by things that would not otherwise have upset him. It was entirely possible that nothing Trowa could say right now would make a lasting impression, but the conversation was happening right now, so he would say what he needed to say right now.
“You think I haven’t been making my own choices?” demanded Quatre. “That I haven’t been under my own control or something?”
“I do. You’ve been in an altered state of mind. All those unpleasant things you mentioned — you’re not responsible for them.” To prevent any protest, Trowa daringly raised his voice and insisted, “This magical energy you’ve internalized has caused you to behave in ways you never normally would. You couldn’t get rid of it yourself, and you couldn’t fight it, so it’s not your fault.”
As Quatre stared, a tear followed a shining pre-established track down his face and fell off his chin where his jaw was working soundlessly as if all words had been snatched from him. He acted almost as if he were recoiling from a blow, but, from his expression, that blow had been more startling than upsetting. Trowa’s point seemed to have taken him somewhat by surprise — or at least that he’d made it, and spoken so loudly and assertively to make it, if not necessarily the idea itself — and Quatre didn’t know if he could accept it. Presently he leaned forward and laid his forehead against Trowa’s shoulder. “I can’t just… dodge responsibility like that.”
“It’s not about you trying to take responsibility or avoid it. This is magic beyond your control. If the energy that possessed you were weak enough that you could resist its influence, the Confrérie wouldn’t have wanted it from you, and it wouldn’t be strong enough to force Sano to fight Hajime like this. It was definitely too much for you to resist. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
If Trowa’s one area of expertise hadn’t been so involved here, he would certainly have found offering these terms of reassurance much more difficult. He wasn’t good at reassurance, and even in the face of that expertise it didn’t seem Quatre was particularly reassured. At least, his hands were tight as he raised them to clutch at Trowa, and his voice was tight with unhappiness and anger as he spoke in reply:
“But even if that’s true, it doesn’t change anything about the person who’s actually possessed — it doesn’t make me a different person. The energy has to have something to work with in the first place, doesn’t it? And it’s all been real — every nasty little thing I said was something I really think, something that would already have been in the back of my head even if I hadn’t been so mad!” His gripping fingers pushed at, slightly shook Trowa for emphasis; but then, undoubtedly remembering the contact between those hands and Trowa last night, Quatre let go abruptly, though he did not cease or slow his rant.
“Every stupid, childish, unfair, mean thing I’ve said or done since this started — just because I wouldn’t normally have said or done those things doesn’t mean they’re not all there inside me.” He pounded against his own chest, not with great accuracy if he was aiming for his heart but just as effectively for conveying his meaning. “I’m a terrible person at heart, Trowa! Yes, it took being possessed to bring it out, but that doesn’t change what I am!”
It made Trowa ache to hear these words and the seriousness behind them, and he wondered if this was how Quatre had felt when he had expressed similar beliefs about himself in the past. He couldn’t let Quatre become any more firmly entrenched in the horrible concept; he had to say something to pull him back away from it. He just didn’t know if he could say the right thing… though he was, of course, going to try.
“Quatre… If that’s what’s in your terrible heart… if that’s the worst of it… then I still think what I’ve thought all along: that you’re probably a better person than most of the rest of the world.”
“What?” Quatre almost snapped.
“You’ve been rude and unpleasant, and sometimes… petty… and thoughtless… but is that the worst that’s in your heart?”
“Trowa! I hit you!” Quatre shook his head in jerky, horrified anger. “Obviously my heart has some abusive tendencies in it, at the very least!”
“That’s not true.” There was some impatience in Trowa’s tone this time as well. “It wasn’t abuse; you obviously had no idea what you were doing. Even under the influence of that energy, you wouldn’t have done it if you’d been aware of your surroundings. And I don’t believe you’ll ever do anything like that again.”
“But you can’t be sure!”
The exchange raised in Trowa’s head a memory of a somewhat parallel discussion earlier this year, and he wondered if Quatre recognized it as well when he replied, “I can’t. But I believe it anyway.”
Again Quatre was shaking his head, somewhat convulsively, and Trowa decided to try a different point that had just come to mind before Quatre could collect another argument. “And even if you think you see all these terrible things in yourself, it did take supernatural possession to bring them out. Under your own control, you don’t say or do things like that. I think recognizing those impulses and restraining them makes you an even better person than if you didn’t feel them in the first place.”
“But…” Quatre looked as if he might be convinced against his will. “You can’t just ignore or erase the fact that I’ve been hurting people.”
“You must know I know how difficult it is to get over something you’ve done wrong. But you can regret it without hating yourself. That’s what you’ve been wanting me to do all along, isn’t it?”
Once more Quatre’s jaw and lips worked soundlessly, and his brows contracted as his eyes welled with tears. Then he pushed forward again, clutching. Abstractedly, Trowa rather hoped Hajime and Sano were still busy with their violence some yards away — his attention was too engrossed to check — because it would appear to them, if they were watching, as if Quatre was bouncing off Trowa’s torso in slow motion throughout this strange conversation. Now he was almost inaudible against Trowa’s shoulder as he asked, “Where did all this confidence come from?”
“I’m just trying to help you,” Trowa answered in some embarrassment, raising both arms around Quatre’s back.
“After how I’ve treated you lately…” Quatre sounded both wondering and irritated, and Trowa thought one emotion was directed at him, the other reflexively.
“I absolutely forgive you,” stated Trowa immediately. “Anyone who loves you will forgive you. They’ve probably all forgiven you already.”
“Not my family,” was Quatre’s wretched reply. “Not the people at work. You and Heero and Duo understand what’s been going on, but nobody else I really care about does.”
“Actually, your parents know.” Trowa’s intention had been to go on, to offer the comfort that the Winners’ only desire was for Quatre to return to them safe and sound, that they had evinced no unhappiness with their son, but after only those four words Quatre broke in:
“What?! How?” Yet again he pushed away from Trowa, shocked and irate. “Since when?”
And as Trowa prepared, somewhat regretful, to tell the story as unincitingly as possible, he wondered whether it had been a significant mistake to mention this at all. To keep up this conversation, pressing his opinion so continually, had been such an effort, had already rendered Trowa so emotionally tense and tired… if this was his first significant mistake, it would be something of a miracle.
At least recounting his interaction with Quatre’s parents and any subsequent discussion on the subject might be a good method of passing time. Trowa wasn’t sure how long they must wait before further exorcism was available, and he doubted they could sleep the hours away in this instance. It might, however, be exactly the wrong news for Quatre right now; it might only serve to make him feel unduly guilty again, whip him up into another emotional frenzy. And was he in the correct frame of mind to call his parents yet? He would probably want to, and Trowa didn’t think he could refuse if Quatre insisted, but was that a good idea? Indeed, this might have been a mistake.
It was too late. All Trowa could do was press on and hope for the best.
The door was answered eventually by a weary-looking Trowa, who welcomed them in with pleasure that formed a significant contrast to his apparent overall emotional state. The first thing he said was, “There’s never any reason for you to knock on my door. Just come in.”
“Well, if it’s locked…” said Duo reasonably as he moved forward for a hug.
“Then you can unlock it with magic,” Trowa replied with a faint smile, returning the embrace. And though Heero had no power to effect the mentioned magic, he felt he was specifically included in this admonition.
“How’s Quatre?” asked Duo next.
Trowa’s facial expression in response was so mixed as to be unreadable, but his words were more definitive: “Cured. The energy is entirely gone as of about an hour ago.”
“But…?” Heero prompted.
Trowa lowered his voice to match Heero’s quiet tone. “He’s not exactly happy. He’s thinking pretty badly of himself right now.” And there was such a sense of grimness and guilt about him as he said it, a clear mirror of Quatre’s reported state, that the hearts of both his friends went out to him.
“It isn’t up to just you to make him feel better. We’ll all help.” In fact Heero longed to talk to Quatre as soon as possible, to see how he was and do what he could to improve that condition, and to demonstrate to himself that Quatre really was completely cured as Trowa said. “Where is he?”
“In there. He’s…” Trowa’s initial gesture indicating the living room turned to one of helplessness, which drew the other two men immediately to him.
“Hey… Trois… it’ll be OK…” Duo was hugging him again. “We’ll figure it out.”
In his pity, Heero actually put a hand on Trowa’s arm as he reiterated Duo’s statement. He wanted to continue reassuringly, but, fearing it would take too long to decide how to word what he had to say, just sent the idea mentally instead: that he’d become convinced in the last couple of days — if he hadn’t already known — that even if things weren’t perfect right now and might take some time to fix, it wasn’t hopeless; it was a situation they could get through, that would improve.
Trowa, from where he remained enveloped by Duo and couldn’t quite turn any look toward Heero — comforted or otherwise — at least nodded.
There was more Heero could have sent. He needed to recount what had happened at Galerie de la Lune after Trowa had taken Quatre home; he needed to inform him that the weird agents had promised to deal with the magical painting, and in fact he needed to tell him about the magical painting in the first place and discuss the weird agents and whether Trowa knew anything about them and whether they were likely to encounter them again.
But Heero felt no urgency about any of this right now, not only because there were more pressing matters at the moment, not only because none of it would make Trowa feel better, but because opportunity for this conversation would be available to them at any time. As Trowa had essentially said, his door was always open to Heero. And there was always, Heero considered with resigned glumness, texting. At the moment, since he sensed that Duo was going to remain attached to Trowa in an effort to offer what further solace he could, he simply turned and headed into the next room.
Mismatched shorts and t-shirt rumpled, hair disheveled, demeanor guarded, Quatre stood near the sheet-covered sofa staring into the back yard. He looked very much as he had that day in his office when they’d waited for Hajime to arrive, but today, presumably, it was a different set of emotions that had him so stiff. This wasn’t a defensive standoffishness; rather, it was as if Quatre still smarted from recent events, and had drawn himself up in fear of being touched.
Not knowing exactly what he would say, Heero approached quietly to join Quatre at the window.
“I thought I heard your voice,” Quatre said in a pale imitation of his normal tone. “And Duo’s. You guys made it back OK, then, I guess.”
“Yeah.” Heero didn’t feel the need to mention how bad Duo’s nightmares had been in the Louisiana hotel, nor his belief that anxiety on other subjects stirred them up; nor that Duo, tired and agitated after his disturbed night, had slept through much of the flight and again missed his chance at reveling in the new human experience, though he’d awakened sufficiently at disembarking from the plane to drive them back to Trowa’s house from the airport.
“It was amazing that all three of you went all the way out there.” Sluggishly Quatre turned to face Heero. “I may have acted like a jerk when you showed up, but now I really appreciate it.”
Saddened but unsurprised at the redness of Quatre’s eyes and the puffy bags beneath them, Heero nodded acknowledgement.
“And I’m sorry, too. Dragging you all the way out there just because I made a bad decision…”
“It was inconvenient,” Heero admitted, “but it’s OK. I’ve always wanted to try some authentic Cajun food in New Orleans.” He wasn’t about to bring up the relationship drama that had taken place there, since that would undoubtedly have arisen eventually no matter what the circumstances or where they were. Heero blamed Quatre no more for that than he blamed Duo himself.
Though he didn’t necessarily feel hurt or betrayed by his boyfriend’s behavior or attitudes of the day before, he perhaps felt a little hurt and betrayed by his own nature, and couldn’t help dwelling on it to some extent even in the midst of this business with Quatre. It almost seemed he’d had a mean trick played on him by destiny, or heredity, or magic, or something. It was as if he’d walked away unscathed from a car accident: in something of a daze, he almost couldn’t believe it had happened, and now there was nothing to be done but adjust to the change it had caused in his life. In this case, the change was nothing he could specifically pinpoint; it had to do with his closeness with Duo, a state he had not lost but in which something was altered, some aspect put on hold until a certain remedy could be enacted, and Heero could only wait patiently for that time.
He would want to talk to his best friend about all of this eventually. Honestly, he’d love to talk to him about it now. Quatre was one of very few people in the world with whom he would feel comfortable discussing such personal details, and whose opinion and probable offers of comfort he would value. But at the moment Quatre would, most likely, consider some or all of it his fault, so Heero wasn’t going to broach the subject.
“Running off to New Orleans in a tantrum wasn’t the only thing, though,” Quatre continued with a sigh. “I also said things to you that nobody should say to his best friend.”
“You pretty much said,” Heero agreed, “that I’m no good in a manager’s position because I don’t like exercising authority over people, and I’m a less than perfect friend because I have a hard time telling people important things.”
“I’m so sorry,” Quatre murmured.
Heero shrugged. “It was totally true. You’ve known me for ten years; there’s probably not a lot of what’s wrong with me that you don’t know.”
“I still shouldn’t have said it.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know whether or not friends should point out each other’s problems and maybe help each other change. It might actually be a good idea. I… don’t know.”
“Well, I shouldn’t have said it the way I said it.”
“I’ll give you that,” Heero allowed. “It hurt, and, honestly, it kinda still hurts to remember it.”
Even more faintly and unhappily this time, Quatre repeated, “I’m so sorry.”
“I forgive you,” replied Heero immediately.
Quatre gave a self-deprecating snort. “Just like that, huh?”
“Yeah.” Heero raised his hands one at a time to illustrate his two points. “You hurt me, and I forgive you.” As he watched fresh tears spring into Quatre’s tired eyes he added, “I think you’ll do better if you know exactly where we stand.” He feared that, despite his entirely believing it, if he walked in here and said, ‘None of it was your fault,’ Quatre would only feel worse. “You hurt me,” he reiterated, “and I forgive you: that’s what you have to deal with.”
“I hurt more than just you.”
“I think this applies to everything you said and did. You’re… sometimes stupidly responsible about things, so of course you can’t just let go of something you did wrong, no matter what the circumstances were. You hurt people, and they forgive you, and you have to learn to accept that. It’ll be completely understandable if it takes you a while and you have to struggle for it.”
Abruptly Quatre threw his arms around Heero, pushing forward into a close embrace. “Thank you,” he said brokenly. “You’re right: I appreciate you putting it that way.” After a moment he added, “And I’m sorry… you’re not really a huggy person.”
“But you are,” Heero replied, any awkwardness that might have colored his tone overridden by his amusement and the relief he felt at Quatre’s altered demeanor. “Whatever it takes.” The truth was that Quatre was also one of very few people in the world Heero was (more or less) comfortable accepting this kind of physical demonstration from, and he didn’t mind too terribly raising his arms to squeeze him in return.
For several seconds — probably not as long as Quatre would have liked, but longer than Heero did, though he didn’t begrudge it him — Quatre dragged out the hug, then finally let go and stepped back. He didn’t exactly look happier than before, but there was a new determination about him that had replaced the vulnerability.
“You’re going to be OK…” Heero wasn’t sure whether he was asking or commanding.
Quatre took a deep breath and then puffed it out in a sound like a sigh that was trying to be anything else. “It feels really good not to be angry.” He said it like an admission of wrongdoing, which fit perfectly with his next words: “I feel a little guilty about feeling so much better, but feeling this much better — and some things you and Trowa have said — makes me believe I should be OK.
“Right now,” he went on, “I want to curl up in a ball and avoid the whole world for a while — so it’s lucky it’s Friday — but at the same time I’m just so happy not to be hating the whole world anymore, which is a strange contrast. I feel guilty about being so happy, like I said, and guilty and unhappy about how I’ve been behaving, especially what I’ve said and done to my friends. And then, again, at the same time, I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to have you guys around, to have friends who would go all the way across the country to drag me back home and then jump straight into trying to make me feel better even after everything I’ve done.” Quatre shook his head, and this sigh sounded much more like a sigh, perhaps even a little like a sob.
Heero usually wasn’t able to come up with quotes at appropriate moments — Duo was not only much more skilled at that than he was, but much more inclined to try — so he was rather pleased with himself now when he managed, “One person can’t feel all that at once. They’d explode.”
Weakly Quatre laughed, and hugged Heero once more. “Thank you for everything,” was his muffled statement. “Thanks for being my friend.”
“It would take more than a magical bad mood to change that,” Heero replied seriously.
“Speaking of magic…” said Quatre as he again pulled out of the hug. “Well, first, I apologize for being so snippy about it before. I didn’t even realize I was jealous about being the only one without magic until all that nonsense brought it out.”
“It makes sense to be jealous,” Heero shrugged. Then, when it looked like Quatre might press the issue, he added more pointedly, “I forgive you for that too.”
Quatre pursed his lips briefly, then let out another sighing breath. Accepting clemency really was going to be his major struggle in days to come. “Anyway,” he said at last, “I understand I’ve entirely missed the beginning of your magic.”
With a wry monosyllabic chuckle, “It’s been… interesting,” Heero said.
“I want to hear all about it, if you don’t mind telling.”
“If you need distracting that badly.”
“I do, but I also really want to know. I’m annoyed that this whole thing has made me miss watching it firsthand.”
“All right,” Heero smiled. “It actually started just when you destroyed that artifact…”
Duo was forced to desist hugging Trowa as the latter, very much like a dog with its pleading eyes locked on the bearer of desired treats, swiveled insistently to watch Heero walk into the other room. Trowa had undoubtedly spent the last twenty-four hours agonizing over Quatre’s state and trying to figure out how to help him, and was now anxiously waiting to see what effect Heero might have on this endeavor. Yet when he turned back to Duo, there was a surprising amount of tranquility in his face and bearing. He seemed to have nothing to say at the moment, for he just moved to the nearby staircase balustrade and leaned against it.
Feeling likewise no need to say more for now, Duo followed and threw himself down on the third step, leaning back and looking at the ceiling high above. He heard the voices of Heero and Quatre distantly, and, though he could make out none of their conversation, he had no problem leaving them to it. He was tired anyway, and after a while closed his eyes.
Presently, though, it did occur to him to ask, “Is that exorcist still here?”
“They’re both still here,” Trowa confirmed.
“Oh, Sano’s here too?” Duo sat straight and twisted around to look up the stairs toward the second-floor room where he assumed the exorcists must be. “I should go see if he wants to come over and watch the game on Sunday.”
“I would recommend waiting until they come out on their own,” replied Trowa. “You didn’t see their exorcism method.”
“Why? What was it like?” Duo wondered with interest. And as Trowa told him, he found himself grinning and wincing. “OK, yeah,” he eventually agreed, “maybe I won’t go bug Sano yet, then.”
Placing a hand on the staircase’s off-white finial, Trowa stared at it as if into the crystal ball it somewhat resembled. “Quatre feels like he forced them to fight each other. Of course he feels guilty about that too.”
Duo nodded, screwing up his lips thoughtfully. “It makes sense for him to feel guilty. He’s put everyone — especially you — through a lot, and, if I know Quatre at all, he probably doesn’t care much that it wasn’t really his fault. But you know what? I’m not nearly as worried about it as you guys obviously are.”
Trowa looked over at him, clearly curious, silently soliciting Duo to go on.
Duo did, with a smile. “Heero got annoyed at me, back when this started, for not taking it seriously enough, and he might get annoyed again now… but the thing is, I’ve been watching a different friend of mine, who did something way worse than what Quatre’s done, working on getting over that and accepting himself as still a good person, and he’s been doing pretty damn well so far.”
Weakly Trowa returned Duo’s expression. “He’s had Quatre to help him, though.”
“And now Quatre has him,” Duo replied matter-of-factly: “a guy who didn’t give up trying to help a friend for eighty-seven years.” He rolled his eyes, not as a gesture of sarcasm but to emphasize his point. “I’d have to be out of my mind to be worried with that guy around. Though, like Heero said, it’s not just your– that guy’s job to make Quatre feel better.”
For a moment Trowa’s smile strengthened as he seemed to accept this offer of confidence, but then it faded again. “Are you still upset with… that guy?”
“Um… not really,” Duo answered after a brief search of his emotions. “I was pretty mad and hurt for a while, but it’s mostly faded away by now. Plus Heero thinks I should go easy on you, and I kindof agree.” He hadn’t planned on bringing this up so soon — he’d thought it would be best to wait until the business with Quatre was good and over, so as not to heap too many troubles onto Trowa’s head at once — but since Trowa had introduced the subject, they might as well get it over with.
“I am sorry I didn’t tell you,” Trowa said. “I haven’t really had much opportunity to think about it since the airplane, but I’m sorry I hurt you.”
“It’s all right. Just, when you do get around to thinking about it — and you’ve probably got a lot to think about right now, so don’t even worry about it if it takes a while — think about not keeping important stuff like that secret in the future.”
Trowa nodded. “At the time, I didn’t think it was worth giving up your chance at being human just to keep me alive, so I didn’t want to run the risk of you deciding to cancel everything.”
“I guess I’m not really surprised,” Duo said unhappily, “but it’s really awful to think about you thinking your own life’s so worthless.”
“That’s changed.” This assurance was quick and definite. “Quatre pulled me out of that way of thinking… rather aggressively, really.” Trowa smiled again. “In fact, by the time the curse actually broke, I was ready to admit to him that I hoped I would survive, that I wanted to live.”
“But you still didn’t tell me.”
“At that point it didn’t even occur to me that I should, I was so caught up in other things. If I’d thought about it, though, I probably still wouldn’t have told you… I wouldn’t have wanted to spoil your hope and your excitement with something I wasn’t even sure about.”
There was something about this line of reasoning that, the more Duo thought about it, struck him as chillingly familiar. He pondered quickly and intensely, and as the complete memory occurred to him all at once, he could almost hear his own voice — an enchanted doll’s overly quiet voice — saying, “Don’t anyone mention this to Trowa, OK? He shouldn’t have to worry about it before he has to. Especially if it turns out he doesn’t have to worry about it at all.”
“Good god!” he exclaimed inadvertently with a horrified laugh. “I did the exact same thing to you!”
“Did you?” wondered the startled Trowa.
“Yes! There was this one time Heero and I got far enough apart that we were afraid it might have screwed up breaking the curse — though we didn’t know for sure — and I told him and Quatre not to tell you for that exact same reason: I didn’t want to spoil your hope with something I wasn’t sure about.”
“Oh, yes. When Quatre’s dog took you out of Heero’s psychic field? Quatre mentioned that.”
Bristling at the offhand way Trowa made this acknowledgment, righteously indignant at himself, Duo jumped up from the stair and glared at nothing. “Here I was thinking about how you not telling me something important and not letting me make my own choices was a controlling thing I was going to have to ask you to promise to not do again, and I did the exact same thing!”
“I don’t think it was ‘the exact same thing,'” Trowa said, and there might have been a hint of amusement to the protest. “The secrets we kept were very different in scope, and we were each in a very different situation, so the effects were different.”
Duo couldn’t deny this, especially since it seemed to indicate Trowa’s specific understanding of the problem, but that didn’t make him less annoyed with himself. He was just opening his mouth to say so when, at the last possible moment — practically in the middle of his first syllable — it occurred to him that expressions of self-blame from him right now would probably be the exact heaping of troubles of Trowa’s head that he’d been seeking to avoid.
Miraculously, Trowa seemed to be in a pretty decent place emotionally at the moment — perhaps Duo’s presence and conversation really had helped to comfort and distract him — and adding a second guilty friend to his concerns was not likely to move him in any good direction. And in any case, this was all six-month-old news — no need to belabor it any further; Duo himself probably shouldn’t be dwelling on it in the first place.
So he closed his mouth, took a breath, reconsidered, and said instead, “Look at you and me trying not to hurt each other and getting it completely wrong.” He grinned, and raised a formal hand. “I solemnly swear, from now on, to tell…” Realizing abruptly that he had the wrong hand up, he quickly corrected himself and resumed, “To tell you anything that has to do with you and choices you need to make for your own life, so help me whatever.”
Trowa chuckled, and, stepping forward, reached out to pull Duo’s upthrust hand back down in his own right for a firm handshake. “It’s a bargain,” he said. “We won’t keep important things from each other.” His tone was a little sardonic as he added, “Quatre once said we should all four get together and make a pact not to do that, so we’ll need to let him and Heero in on this when we have the chance.”
Duo struggled not to frown. What with Quatre’s guilty, unhappy frame of mind and the totally stupid and unforeseen trust issues between Duo and Heero, that might be easier said than properly done.
But Trowa, rather unexpectedly, evidently seeing Duo’s shift in mood, was suddenly the one to say, “Don’t worry. We’ll all be fine.” He squeezed Duo’s hand and released it, then leaned back against the balustrade again, the picture of patient faith for the future.
Duo found his grin returning. “Yeah, of course we will,” he said firmly. And he meant it.
From how he’d felt at waking on Friday, the difference in Quatre’s sensations Saturday morning was, he believed, a symbol of his general improvement. Sleep, as it so often did, had settled everything into its proper place and given him not only some perspective on what he felt and what he needed to do, but the rest for both body and mind that would allow him to deal with both.
He was still conscious of guilt in response both to the wrongs he’d perpetrated and to feeling so much better about life after having perpetrated them. He still had a growing mental list of things he needed to say to people, and a looming awareness of the probable difficulty of some of those conversations. But he deemed himself nearly prepared, now, to plunge in. In fact he seemed so energized, so fit and well, that it might have contributed to his guilt if it hadn’t already contributed to his determination and readiness to work on everything he needed to accomplish.
Today Trowa had evidently awakened first, and had probably been patiently waiting for Quatre to wake up and set the tone of the day. And Quatre determined instantly to be extremely careful about that tone, to avoid starting things out wrong and threatening poor Trowa with another day of unpleasantness. This was difficult when a sharp pain of heart stabbed Quatre all over again at the sight of those bruises, but he forced himself to smile at least a little as he sat up and looked over at his boyfriend on the other side of the air mattress.
Trowa returned the smile with apparent relief, and Quatre reflected that the prediction he’d once made — that he would never cease being moved by the sight of a smile on that often emotionless face — was still entirely borne out even months later.
“Good morning,” Trowa said, also shifting into a seated position. And though there was caution in the phrase — he couldn’t know, yet, how Quatre would behave or what his mood might be — the fact that he’d initiated the greeting, the first exchange of the day, spoke of a probing, a testing of circumstances, rather than a tentative response made only by necessity. He really had grown more confident, and, though this was nothing more than the natural progression Quatre had long foreseen, it seemed to have been accelerated somehow over the last few weeks. Shameful as it was to consider, perhaps there had been effects of Quatre’s awful condition that weren’t entirely negative.
“Good morning,” Quatre echoed, reaching out. Trowa reached back with a hand so warm and strong that Quatre’s confidence increased. He was unexpectedly secure in Trowa’s support, and his joy at seeing that Trowa had come so far as to offer rather than require support was something over which he was determined not to experience any guilt.
“How are you feeling?” Trowa asked, just as he had yesterday.
“Guilty, dirty, and hungry,” Quatre replied, “in that order. And like I have a lot to do. And…” The desire to be honest with Trowa, and to reassure him if he could, compelled him to confess, “And I’m extremely happy not to be so angry.”
Trowa’s relief, not to mention his smile, remained in evidence. “I’m happy to hear you’re happy about anything,” he said. “As for hunger, Heero promised yesterday — declared, really — that he’s coming over to make breakfast this morning. And as for guilty and dirty…” He evidently wasn’t sure what to say about guilty and dirty. “Why dirty?”
“I mean actually — physically dirty.” Quatre pushed the blanket down his naked body, seeing no visible grime but feeling no less grimy. “I don’t know how many days it’s been since I had a real wash.”
“Oh. That can be helped.” Trowa let go and rose in a motion whose near-complete lack of abashment even more than its revelation of his lean, pale body, bare but for his briefs, could only raise admiration in the man that subsequently sank further into the air mattress as he became the primary weight thereon.
In a prediction similar to that about the smile, Quatre doubted that he’d ever cease being attracted to Trowa. He might even be in the mood this very day for some physical reassurance, some proof that Trowa still considered him someone worth being attracted to in return — later, when his own body wasn’t quite so nasty after the many imperfect sponge baths in a muggy New Orleans basement, and when he’d at least made a start on the reparations for his own behavior of recent days that were nagging at him.
Rising as well, he followed Trowa into the master bathroom that, though he’d seen it abstractly a few times while making use of its toilet as needed during the previous day and nights, he had not yet examined properly. Now he found it to be spacious, nicely equipped, and painted in decent blues that went fairly well with its grey appliances; and, fond as he wasn’t of carpet in a bathroom, he could get over that.
After his first glance around, his eyes were drawn, thanks to Trowa’s gesture, to a step leading up into a huge corner bathtub walled such that it could be curtained off and used as a shower as well, though the curtain Trowa had once expressed uncertainty about his reason for owning was absent. Perhaps it had been destroyed in the fire.
Quatre gave a vocal sigh of happiness and surprise when he recognized some of his own personal care products lined up along the edge of this bathtub, and he moved swiftly forward to seize the closest of them. “These survived? I can’t believe it.”
“If they hadn’t,” said Trowa, “I could easily go pick up new ones for you. But, yes, they did.”
It struck Quatre anew, much less miserably but no less forcibly than it had in New Orleans, just how much of life he’d missed out on over the last few weeks. This was Trowa’s new house, wasn’t it? How much had he paid for it? How had he managed to move in so quickly? How big was it? Where, in fact, was it? Quatre had visited only a few rooms and stared unseeingly into what he assumed was the back yard, and none of that in a frame of mind conducive to any real analysis. And he had no idea how many of Trowa’s possessions had made the transition from one home to another, how many essential items Trowa might be lacking now.
Answering only a fraction of this question, “The shower curtain survived too,” Trowa went on, “if you’d prefer a shower to a bath. I’ve had it up in the hall bathroom so Hajime could use it, but I can bring it in here.”
Perplexed, Quatre looked up from the shampoo bottle in his hand and asked, “How long has Hajime been here?” It made some sense that the two exorcists had spent the last couple of nights here after the effort required for the three-stage absorption process — though what they were sleeping on and under Quatre could not guess — but it seemed, from Trowa’s words, as if at least Hajime had been here longer.
“About a week.”
Only reluctantly did Trowa answer, undoubtedly uncomfortable at providing information he knew would make Quatre unhappy. “The police wanted to question him when you disappeared, and he wanted to avoid that.”
And indeed Quatre’s heart sank. He had more to apologize for even than he’d realized, and Hajime was just one entry on a list, ever-growing like that of people Quatre needed to talk to in the first place, of those that might not accept his apology. At least he could substantiate that apology with money, since his relationship with the exorcist was solely professional in the first place. With many others he would not have that luxury.
He took a deep breath. “Well, don’t worry about the shower curtain; a bath sounds amazing. We can talk while I scrub my skin off.”
Trowa pushed forward to turn on the tap, murmuring something impossible to catch over the sudden roar of water into the big echoing tub; but when the latter noise vanished entirely, Quatre realized what (in purport, at least) Trowa must have said. It was fascinating to watch the water pour down in complete silence as if it were a muted video rather than reality, and it was delightful, as always, to observe Trowa working magic.
“Thank you,” Quatre smiled, stepping into the pooling water. It was cold yet, but he sat down anyway, pushing a swiveling plug to seal the drain and then turning to take stock of exactly which bathing products he had access to here.
“You’re welcome,” replied Trowa. “Leave some of your skin, though. You may want it later.”
Quatre threw a grin toward where his boyfriend now leaned against the counter beside the sink, and saw that Trowa was eyeing him covetously. The fact that this grin was the happiest expression Quatre had worn for some time, coupled with that shiver-inducing gaze from someone that obviously still loved him and desired him in spite of everything, seemed to set his heart on fire, which made the water around him feel even colder by contrast.
“You’ve changed,” he said. “I like it.”
Trowa blushed, which was very sweet, and admitted, “I did have a bit of a breakdown at one point while you were gone, but I also made up my mind to… to be what you — to be what we both needed.”
The first tears not prompted by wretchedness in quite a few days sprang into Quatre’s eyes, and his heart burned hotter than ever. “You’re amazing. You’ve certainly done better than I have lately.” He fumbled the bottle of body wash he’d just picked up, and it fell with a soundless splash into the deepening, warming water. “You even managed to move into a new house insanely soon after your old one burned. I’m sorry, by the way, for what I said about that. You obviously didn’t need your hand held.”
“You don’t need to apologize for every individual thing,” Trowa said a little awkwardly. “I probably could have used some hand-holding… buying the house when I did might not have been the best idea.”
Quatre, lathering up with body wash he’d recovered from its brief floating evasion of his hand, let go the issue of apology and only asked, “Why?”
“As I said the other day, I have almost nothing left in my bank account… I need to sit down at someone’s computer and manage some of my investments before any of my new monthly bills come due… and besides…” Blush deepening, Trowa turned abruptly and stared at his own face in the mirror above the counter. A flick of eyes would have allowed him to look at the reflection of Quatre, but he kept them locked with their counterparts in the glass. “I want you to move in with me.” The perfect steadiness of his words was perhaps facilitated by that self-encouraging gaze. “And I should have waited for your input. Buying a new house made me feel more proactive, and better about everything, but–”
He got no farther with his explanation, since just then he was pinned against the counter in an enveloping hug from behind by a Quatre whose rise from the bath had been completely unheralded, thanks to Trowa’s silencing spell, by any splashing sounds that might otherwise have given his movements away. As Quatre crushed him with the unexpected, intense embrace, the only further sound Trowa could make was one of breathless surprise.
From where he’d laid his face against Trowa’s shoulder, Quatre whispered his lover’s name, then continued, “It is completely inappropriate of you to be rewarding me at this point.”
Squirming around — an effort made easier, most probably, by the soapy substance all over Quatre’s skin — Trowa wondered in a facetious murmur, still somewhat breathless, as he put his own arms around Quatre’s wet back, “So you don’t want to move in with me?”
“Of course I want to move in with you. But thinking about all the trouble I’ve caused lately makes me feel like the worst person in the world for accepting something that makes me so happy.”
“I don’t want you to feel like the worst person in the world when I consider you the best,” said Trowa gravely, “so I’ll propose a compromise: move in with me after you’ve talked to everyone, when you’ve put things right.”
“Putting things right may involve more than just talking to everyone…” Looking into Trowa’s serious eyes, Quatre didn’t know if he could handle this much swelling emotion. “But that’s an excellent compromise. If I get discouraged, I’ll have moving in with you as an extra incentive.” Again he laid his face on Trowa’s shoulder and clasped him tightly. “And I would kiss you very thoroughly right now if I had brushed my teeth yet.”
“Keep hold of that thought while you finish your bath. Then you can brush your teeth, kiss me very thoroughly, and go downstairs for whatever Heero’s making for us for breakfast. And take a tour of your future home, if you want.”
“I do want.” Reluctantly Quatre pulled away from Trowa and returned to what was by now a nicely hot and nearly half-full bath — it really was a big tub. “And then I can call my parents and have a more coherent conversation than the other day and figure out how much trouble I’m in for keeping them in the dark for six months — oh, and make sure they talk to the police and clear all that up — and then I can arrange to give those exorcists some huge amount of money, after I apologize for my rudeness. I have no real problem with Jos Banks.”
“As always, working from a well organized list.” Trowa was again leaning on the counter, bare skin gleaming where Quatre had pressed against him.
“These are preliminary items,” Quatre sighed, “that I have to get done before I can even start on the list.”
“Let me know if I can help in any way. With anything.” Trowa still seemed a little awkward making such a blatant offer of assistance and support, and Quatre, far from being put off by the impression, more or less adored it.
“Just keep reminding me that you love me even after everything.”
“I love you even after everything.”
Quatre sealed his smiling mouth, and washed the tears from his eyes by completely submerging his head in the water.
Between this part and the epilogue is That Remarkable Optimism.
Dear, Awesome Person,
You are invited to an amazing party, that is basically my doing, but is also co-hosted by one of my best friends, Quatre Winner. This party is happening for several, very good reasons, which are as follows:
1. To celebrate something, that happened earlier this year, which I’m not going to give details about here, but definitely needs to be celebrated.
2. To be a housewarming party for Quatre’s hot boyfriend, and another one of my best friends, Trowa Barton, who you may or may not know, and whose new house the party is at. (Trowa says, that I’m not allowed to request presents for him, but he’s not getting this email, so he doesn’t know what I’m requesting. He has practically no furniture, or household stuff, since his old house BURNED DOWN, so if you want to bring him something, and don’t tell him I told you, DO IT.)
3. To celebrate Trowa’s birthday, which was a month ago, but which we never celebrated right at the time. (If you want to bring him something, you can pretend it’s a birthday present!)
4. To celebrate Quatre getting out of a bad situation, which I also don’t need to give details about, but which we’re all really happy he was able to get out of!
5. To let Quatre make a sort of formal apology, (by paying for this whole thing,) which some of us don’t think he needs to do, but he thinks he needs to, for anything he said, or did, in that bad situation, that made anyone else unhappy.
6. To give me a chance to hang out with all my new friends, and introduce anyone of them, who haven’t met each other, to each other!
If not one, single one of those very good reasons, seems like a good enough reason for you to come to this party, you need to rethink your life. Plus, we’re going to have all sorts of food (including birthday cake, that Heero’s making, and if you haven’t tasted Heero’s cooking yet, you also need to rethink your life), and good drinks, and play some great games.
There followed the date and time of the event, Trowa’s address, a further exhortation for the recipient to attend, a surprisingly flourishless closing, and a post-script reiterating the point in even more forceful language. It was, overall, a very effective communication, and almost never failed to make Heero laugh out loud. He tried to avoid doing so in front of Duo, of course, and mostly only reread the thing whenever he was a little bit down, which generally happened out of Duo’s presence anyway.
He’d reread it just now, and was shutting off the computer reluctantly, because the day of the party had arrived, the hour of the party was approaching, and he needed some cheer to help brace him for the prospect.
Since Duo hadn’t yet mastered the art of blind carbon copying, Heero had a fairly good idea of whom he would encounter tonight (assuming they weren’t too busy rethinking their lives), and he predicted the Winner Plastics employees would have the highest attendance percentage of the various groups on the list. Duo had convinced Quatre to let him send out this invitation a week and a half ago so as to give people as long as possible (without setting the party for a later date) to clear their schedules for tonight — which also meant the gossips had had eleven days of fresh frenzying over phrases like ‘one of my best friends’ and ‘Quatre’s hot boyfriend.’ To meet the latter, to try all over again to winkle the truth out of any of the people involved, to get more fodder for their endless speculations, the curious Winner Plastics folks would probably die before they missed a chance.
Of course Heero had plenty of practice putting up with the work crowd, even at parties, so he wasn’t terribly worried about that. Then, some people he counted as friends — including his sister and her husband, and Treize and Zechs — had also been invited, and of spending time with them, even in combination, he wasn’t afraid. But then there was the second half of the list. Some of them might have been requested by Quatre (or possibly even Trowa, though Heero highly doubted that), but it was still a large set of people whose names Heero didn’t recognize and that he wasn’t sure how Duo had met and become friendly enough with to demand they come to a party. And Heero would probably have to be introduced to most if not all of them.
But he would put up with it for Duo’s sake — and for Quatre’s, since, as Duo had mentioned in the email, the evening would be something more than a standard party to him as well. Hell, even for Trowa’s sake, since Duo’s not-so-subtle hints might win him some much-needed presents.
The present Duo had bought for Trowa, not a much-needed item but still one Heero thought Trowa would have a good use for, appeared suddenly very nearby in its bright new dressing of multi-colored star-sprinkled wrapping paper and a huge red bow. Readable in Duo’s head was the fact that he had proceeded, not admitting it aloud, with the plan Heero had expressed disapproval of: putting a load of shiny star-shaped confetti inside the wrapping paper so as to cause a huge glittery mess when the gift was opened. Heero opted to say nothing about this, but he would not be the one cleaning it up.
“What do you think?” Duo asked eagerly. “Not bad for someone who hasn’t wrapped anything in paper for ninety years, huh?”
Taking the rectangular package in hand from where Duo had been holding it right in his face, Heero examined it at a more propitious distance and from various angles. “Yes, you did really well, especially on the corners.”
Duo radiated pleasure and satisfaction, and Heero could tell that his joy ran deeper than mere pride in skillful handling of paper, tape, and scissors. He was extremely happy about several aspects of the situation, including that his very first purchase with his very first paycheck earned in his new human life had been a birthday present for his best friend.
Heero liked that too, though he remained silent about it. He considered the present, which had been rather expensive, a symbol of Duo’s willingness to forgive and move on after a painful event in a relationship — and he couldn’t help finding that significant.
Duo was also pleased about the nature and origin of the gift. Heero, having combined two memories — Duo’s statement, “He was pretty good at clarinet back in the day,” and Trowa’s text, I haven’t played for years — with the fact that the extremely musical Quatre would sooner or later be moving in with Trowa, had suggested this particular gift when Duo, overwhelmed even more than usual at the staggering number of possible purchases he could make with his first paycheck, had wondered in something of a daze what he should buy first.
The suggestion had delighted Duo as an indication of increased friendship between Heero and Trowa; it seemed to demonstrate a growing understanding not only of Trowa personally and what would help him reestablish a life removed from curses and penance, but of Trowa’s relationship with Quatre and what might strengthen it. Though Heero didn’t feel he was owed any special credit for this, he did consider it true, and didn’t really mind when Duo insisted on including him in the ‘from’ slot on the tag. Though he refused to take credit for the confetti any more than clean it up.
He handed the boxed clarinet back at last and added, “You wrapped that better than I could have.”
“I miiiight have watched a tediously detailed YouTube video about wrapping presents yesterday,” Duo admitted. Of course Heero already knew this, but he was working hard to keep from mentioning aloud anything he picked up from Duo’s head so as to avoid making him uncomfortable. “And anyway, you made the cake, and I couldn’t have done that.”
“Cake mix,” said Heero with a smile as he stood from the chair by the computer. “You wouldn’t have any problems.”
“Yeah, but I might not have the patience,” Duo replied, mirroring the expression and reflecting that for the six dozen cupcakes Heero had made, to match and eke out a cake far too small for everyone at the party, he would definitely not have had the fortitude. Even merely trying to help Heero frost them had only been able to hold his interest for about five cupcakes before he’d turned his attention to creative arrangements of sprinkles instead. Cookery of any sort was clearly not something he was cut out for.
Heero chuckled and leaned over to kiss Duo briefly. “We should probably start carrying everything down to the car.”
“This first!” Duo hefted Trowa’s present like the hard-won prize that, in a way, it was.
“You’ve got two hands,” Heero told him sardonically, and headed out of the room.
As they set out with Tupperwares full of cupcakes in stacks, one with a giftwrapped clarinet balanced on top, Duo asked with serious casualness, “Do you think Quatre’s ready yet? I kinda got the feeling he might be making The Big Announcement about moving in with Trowa tonight.”
“I honestly don’t know,” Heero replied. “He’s been working hard–”
“Harder than anyone else thinks he needs to,” Duo put in.
“–and I think he’s feeling a lot better by now,” Heero continued with a nod of agreement. “But he has his own standards to live up to, and I don’t know if he’s there yet.”
Their conversation had to pause as a couple of fellow apartment tenants, whom Heero recognized only by sight, fell into step with them. Evidently Duo not only knew their names, but had invited them to the party, so there was confirmation of attendance to be sought and given. In fact the two were on their way, like Heero and Duo, down to the parking lot so as to leave early — in their case to pick something up on the way as a housewarming gift. By the time they parted to head for their separate vehicles, Duo was gleeful.
“This is going to be so awesome,” he gloated. “Trowa’s going to be flooded with stuff.”
Heero shook his head with a smile, setting his burdens on top of his car in order to unlock it. “Only you could get people to come to a total stranger’s house and bring him presents.” He added as he began stacking the cupcakes in the back and pondering whether or not to seatbelt them in, “That’ll be an incentive for Quatre to move in sooner: if anyone brings Trowa anything Quatre doesn’t like, it’ll drive him crazy until he can get in there and sell it so he can replace it with something better.”
Duo laughed triumphantly. “Maybe that was my plan all along!”
“Sure,” Heero allowed in a tone of amused doubt.
“So let’s go!” Duo, having deposited his cupcakes next to Heero’s in the back, opened the driver’s side door impatiently and leaned in to set the wrapped present in the passenger seat. “We’ve got friends to force into cohabitation!”
Again Heero shook his head. “We’ve got to go back up for the cake,” he reminded him. “Or at least I do.”
“I’ll come with you,” Duo declared. “For moral support.”
“OK,” Heero allowed. “Cake, moral support, and friends.”
“Sounds like a perfect night!”
And whatever Heero might feel about parties specifically, in general he had to agree.
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.
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.
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This is currently the last chronological story in the His Own Humanity series, but keep your eyes open for more!