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.