Trowa wasn’t entirely certain how he’d been talked into this. Eating with Heero and Duo had become fairly routine, it was true, but Duo was still nominally his best friend and Heero asked nothing of him. Eating with Quatre’s family had been trying and not a great deal of fun, but he’d been more than willing to make the effort for the sake of having Quatre’s parents’ approval. This… this was completely different. He’d only met Heero’s sister once, briefly, and knew nothing whatsoever of her fiance… and who would have thought the breaking of the curse would be the herald of so many dinners?
He couldn’t help looking back on those few months ever so long ago when he’d been a rising socialite of sorts, welcomed in many circles wherever a self-made man wasn’t an object of disdain, and wonder where all his tolerance for people had gone. Not that he’d been much of a fan even then, but he’d at least been able to interact without difficulty, and take sufficient enjoyment from his private thoughts to make that interaction worth it.
But, then, he’d lived very differently for the last eighty-seven years. His dealings with others had nearly all been business-related; he’d either been asking for something or being asked; there had always been an exchange of some sort that neatly took the place of any sociability. So how had he managed to get himself signed up for a friendly dinner at a restaurant with a group of people that included one he’d never met and another he barely knew?
“It’s not too late, you know… you could still go home.”
Ah, yes. That was how.
“It’s all right,” he insisted.
Quatre liked him. Trowa still didn’t quite understand it, but (largely at the insistence of Quatre himself) he’d come to accept the fact. And Quatre deserved a real person for a boyfriend. Maybe it was unwise, maybe it was unhealthy, maybe it was rather pathetic to be considering changing for someone else’s sake, but until he was in the right frame of mind to do it for his own, Trowa thought that the desire to make himself into something even a little more like the man Quatre deserved wasn’t a bad place to start. And if the first step was to become slightly less reclusive, so be it.
From the driver’s seat, Quatre smiled at him. “At least we don’t have to hide anything this time,” he said encouragingly.
It was a good, an excellent point. Half of what had been so difficult about that long evening with Quatre’s parents had been the inability, rare in the life of such an accomplished and sought-after magician, to tell them what he really was and the greater part of his real history. But, since Relena already knew and had evidently decided to share that knowledge with her fiance, this wouldn’t be a problem tonight.
The fiance didn’t know yet, though, so they’d agreed to meet by conventional means at the restaurant where Relena and whatever the guy’s name was were treating them all. Trowa wasn’t used to riding in cars, so accustomed was he to traveling just about everywhere he went by magic; actually, the last time he’d been buckled into someone’s passenger seat watching the city go by, it had been the same car driven by the same man a month and a half before. How things had changed since then!
As a matter of fact, he realized as they pulled into the parking lot at their destination, even the same restaurant had been involved.
“I didn’t know we were coming here,” he murmured as Quatre stopped the car.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Quatre sounded just the tiniest bit anxious.
Wanting to reassure him, Trowa said in a deadpan, “Are you going to get me drunk again?”
“How could I possibly mind revisiting the place where I first saw you?” Trowa added more quietly.
After reaching briefly to squeeze Trowa’s hand, Quatre got out of the car.
Duo and Heero had been shut up in the bedroom doing… something or other… when Trowa and Quatre had passed through the apartment on the way out, but it appeared they’d left not long after and driven faster, for here they were pulling into the next space at almost the same moment. Trowa knew practically nothing about modern cars, but even he noticed how odd Heero’s aged white thing looked next to Quatre’s shiny plum-colored one. But he thought their vehicles suited them, somehow, and saw nothing wrong with the contrast.
“Look!” cried Duo, jumping out. “I have some clothes of my own now!”
“It’s about time!” Quatre said as they all began to walk together toward the restaurant door. “I was wondering how long you could keep wearing Heero’s shorts before he got tired of doing laundry so often.”
Trowa was then called upon to approve Duo’s new outfit — black jeans and a purple button-up whose sleeves he’d already rolled past his elbows — and by the time this admiration had been duly granted, they were inside and Heero was looking around for the sister he stated was already here. At the direction of the staff, they made their way to where a couple of tables had been pushed together for them in a comfortable back corner and their hosts waited.
“Hi, guys!” Relena greeted them, standing alongside her fiance: a friendly, neat-looking person with a very honest face. Though he appeared, like Heero’s sister, to be only a few years younger than Quatre and Heero, something about him seemed, to Trowa, excessively young and fresh; it made Trowa feel old all of a sudden. Well, he was old; he supposed it was all right to feel it.
Heero hugged Relena — the first time Trowa had seen him hug anyone besides Duo — briefly shook hands with the fiance at the latter’s polite instigation, then took a seat. This left Relena to introduce the rest of them.
“Everyone,” she began with a smile, “this is Colin Morris, my fiance. Col, this is Quatre Winner; he’s the one my mother’s always worried Heero’s going to start going out with any day.”
“Oh, that Quatre Winner.” Colin shook Quatre’s hand with a smile. “It’s good to meet you. Are you sure you’re not the Quatre Winner who’s some kind of manager at Winner Plastics?”
“No, I’m that Quatre Winner too,” Quatre grinned.
“Absolutely no shop talk tonight, though,” Relena warned. “We’re here so everyone can meet everyone else, and to celebrate. I don’t want to hear a single word about offices.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Colin dutifully. “But you only said ‘dinner with Heero and some of his friends.’ What are we celebrating?”
“We’ll get to that. You haven’t met the other two yet.”
“Yeah!” Duo pushed forward. “I’m coming to you guys’ wedding and I’ve never even officially met the groom!”
Relena laughed. “Well, that’s not that unusual. But, Colin, this is Duo Maxwell, Heero’s new boyfriend.”
Colin threw a glance at Heero. “A new boyfriend? Nice work, old boy.” Then he shook hands with Duo, who was deliberately preening as if Colin’s words had been specifically in compliment to him.
“And this is Trowa Barton, Quatre’s boyfriend.” Trowa was a little surprised she’d gotten his name right, given the brevity of their last meeting. He’d only remembered hers because the others had said it a few times earlier.
“Pleased to meet you,” Colin smiled, shaking Trowa’s hand.
As the last introduced, Trowa was the last to take his seat, and found himself, to his pleasure, between Quatre and Duo with his back to the wall; at least one of them must have been looking out for him.
Colin, now sitting opposite Trowa beside Relena, glanced around once the noisy scraping of their chairs had mostly ceased, and asked jovially, “So what is it we’re celebrating?”
There was a lot of side-eying in response to this among the other men. “We’re telling everything, right?” Quatre confirmed at last.
“Only if you want to,” replied Relena placidly. “If not, we can just have a mystery celebration and he can wonder forever.”
“That hardly seems fair!” Colin protested.
“I don’t think any of us mind telling,” grinned Quatre, looking around at his friends.
Trowa and Heero shook their heads in concurrence. Duo shrugged and said, “Sure… it’s not like he’ll believe it anyway,” at which both Quatre and Relena laughed.
“All right, now I’m dying to know,” said Colin.
“Let’s all decide what we want first,” was Relena’s authoritative suggestion, probably in response to the waitress that had been patiently standing nearby watching them get settled.
Trowa chose some kind of salad that had chicken and mandarin oranges on top, declined Quatre’s facetious, sotto voce offer of a glass of wine with only a very slight blush, then sat back and waited for someone else to begin the story. And someone else did, but only after Colin had been commanded not to express his opinion on anything until the entire account was made, and a brief debate over whether it would sound better in chronological order or as Heero and Quatre had experienced it — an exchange that seemed to render poor Colin quite amusingly wild with curiosity.
Quatre made a good tale of it, leaving nothing out except for the more personal details, and even managing to quell Duo’s frequent interruptions fairly skillfully. He told about the curse, some of Duo’s unfortunate history as a doll, and how Trowa had spent so many years looking for him; how he and Heero had come to be involved, and been found by Trowa; what the latter had tried before they’d discovered the answer — Trowa was surprised Quatre remembered so many details there; the little human abilities Duo had gradually attained; Heero’s troubles with co-workers — some of which Trowa hadn’t heard about, and which were rather funny; the misunderstandings that kept them all dancing around important issues for so long — just in general: not enough to be embarrassing, only enough to be entertaining; and about their tension and concern that final evening.
It was a longer story than Trowa had realized. Of course it spanned an entire century, but just in the telling it took over an hour. Part of that was the aforementioned interruptions from Duo and the occasional question from Relena or even Colin (who was apparently allowed to make interjections if they were in search of clarification), but it really did take quite a while; they were all finished eating (except Quatre, whose mouth had been occupied with words) by the time it was done.
When Quatre had fallen silent, everyone else did too, and eventually they were all looking at Colin somewhat expectantly — even Duo, who had formerly been studying the dessert menu with intense purpose. Trowa couldn’t imagine how this must sound to someone that previously hadn’t even known magic existed; he thought back to his last visit to this restaurant, when he’d been so desperate to convince Quatre and Heero to let him see Duo that he’d been willing to pour his heart out to total strangers. Rather to his own surprise, tonight he found himself more entertained and curious to hear what Colin would have to say than anything else.
“Well,” Colin began with a half baffled grin, running his hand through his hair. “I think I’m still waiting for you guys to announce that this is a screenplay you’ve collaborated on and you want to know what I think of it.”
There were a couple of chuckles from around the table indicating that Colin was reacting exactly as expected.
“Or a novel?” he suggested next. “I’ve never heard of four people co-authoring all at once, but…”
Duo covered his mouth to stifle an even louder laugh, but couldn’t hide his grin.
“A pitch for a television series?” Colin looked around at them, still jovially confused. “I mean, it’s a great story, but…”
“It’s totally for real, Col,” said Relena. She patted him on the shoulder with an expression of amused sympathy. “I know it’s a lot to take in at once. It was hard for me even when Duo was a doll.”
Now it was Colin’s turn for a laugh, though his was utterly disbelieving and still a little baffled. “OK,” he said, obviously deciding to play along and not the least bit convinced. “OK, so…” He turned his eyes toward Duo and asked, attempting to keep a straight face, “So how long were you a doll, again?”
“Eighty-seven years,” replied Duo, grinning lopsidedly. He could see as well as the rest of them that Colin didn’t believe any of this yet.
“Right, right.” Colin shook his head. What he must be thinking of their motives and their sense of entertainment at the moment Trowa could only guess, and trying to guess was rather amusing. But it was time to speed things up.
Fixing his eyes on the glass across the table from him, Trowa murmured a spell.
Looking a little startled, as people often did when they heard the magical language for the first time, Colin glanced back abruptly at Trowa and said, “What was tha–whoa!” And he jumped backward, making his chair screech across the tile floor and topple as he left it, upon catching sight of his Diet Coke suddenly bright red fading to orange.
Almost everyone else at the table laughed again (which, in the face of Colin’s startlement, was perhaps a bit insensitive), and Quatre actually leaned over and kissed Trowa on the cheek. “Well done,” he said.
“Sit down,” Relena bade her fiance with a grin, rising to right his chair for him. “You should have seen what he did to convince me” — though, if Trowa recalled correctly, this had been nothing more than some nonsense with cards (well, technically it had been magic, but it probably could have been duplicated by sleight of hand). “We’re fine,” she next told the waiter that came hurrying over, trying not to laugh as she took a step to the side to hide the still-vacillating drink.
At the latter Colin stared as he slowly resumed his seat. It faded from blue to purple, then back to its proper brown, under his eyes, and he then looked up at Trowa. “Can you…” he asked hesitantly. “Can you do that again?”
In the past, Trowa had rarely been pleased with requests for meaningless displays of magic (the most notable exceptions being when Quatre was involved), but at the moment he was only amused and happy to comply. This time he instructed the soda to progress through a series of greens and yellows to white and then back, and Colin watched in open-mouthed astonishment.
“That’s… amazing…” he breathed. “What else can you do?”
Trowa shrugged, casting about for something more interesting. His gaze alighted on the salt and pepper shakers, and he spoke a slightly more complicated spell to make them hover just above the table and engage in a spinning dance.
“I think you’ve got a fan, Trois,” Duo grinned, for Colin still hadn’t managed to shut his gaping mouth and his eyes were shining with wonder.
“It is extremely sexy,” said Quatre seriously.
“I don’t know about sexy…” Colin was beginning to get hold of himself, but at the same time seemed increasingly excited. “But it’s amazing! Is it real magic? Or else how do you do it? Actually…” he added in a mixture of still-agitated pensiveness and loyalty, “it might be pretty sexy if Relena did it.”
“She probably could, eventually,” Duo said thoughtfully. “Heero’s got the talent, and it usually does run in families.”
Colin looked at his fiance with brows raised in pleased surprised. Relena managed to put on a mysterious expression just in time, though there was mirth behind it. This made Quatre and Duo laugh again, and even Trowa had to smile.
“OK, so…” Colin turned back to sweep his eyes somewhat greedily over the rest of them again; they came to rest on Trowa. “You turned him into a doll?”
So the story, essentially, had to be told all over. It didn’t take quite as long as last time, and in this instance the distractions were provided by Trowa himself as he continued to work magic on a small scale all across their dining space for Colin’s entertainment, ceasing only, abruptly, whenever anyone walked by or they ordered dessert or their dessert arrived. At that point Duo tried a few spells of his own, which, he being rather rusty, ended up getting whipped cream from the top of his pie all over his face and his brand-new shirt (and Trowa did not miss the look he and Heero exchanged at this).
There could be no doubt: Colin was convinced, and extremely interested in everything. His innocent fascination drew even Trowa and Heero out of their reticence to answer his very engaging questions, and soon everyone seemed much more at ease than Trowa had thought they (or at least he) could possibly be this evening. Not only that, here he was doing magic — utterly pointless magic — without feeling the least bit bad about it or expecting anything in return. Maybe relearning how to make friends and have fun with them wouldn’t be quite as difficult as he’d thought.
And under the table, he felt Quatre’s hand take hold of his, and everything in the world was fine.