It’s funny, my therapist and I had just had a long talk
about Quatre Winner that very morning. Or more like an argument. She insisted
that six months was long enough, and that it was time I confronted the man
and got it over-with. Especially since he and Trowa were tentatively talking
about possibly giving it another try.
I maintained that I really didn’t want to deal with
the man until I’d decided whether I was going to deck him or run away
from him on sight. Kinda felt like there ought to be a plan there, before
I made any hasty decisions, if you know what I mean.
All the way back from Devil’s Palm, Heero had assured
me that I would not have to deal with Mr. Winner until I gave the word,
and he’d somehow made it happen. Reason and I had moved into Heero’s
apartment with him for the month it had taken us to find a house, and during
that time there had been one single attempt by Quatre to get in touch with
me. I have no idea what Heero said to him, but it had been the last call
we’d gotten from the Winner residence. Heero had told me that if I
decided I was ready to talk, all I had to do was ask, but until then…
not to worry about it.
And I hadn’t. Had bigger fish to fry, if you know what
I mean. It had taken a few sessions, but I’d come to understand that
in the grand scheme of things Quatre Winner really hadn’t had that
much to do with my breakdown. Guy had just been what Doc calls a ‘catalyst’.
Wrong place, wrong time, wrong mood, wrong words and I up and did something
that I probably would have ended up doing on my own eventually anyway.
I got that part pretty easily, I guess. The part I couldn’t
quite get was the forgiving and forgetting stuff. The things he’d
said to me… right, wrong, or indifferent… had still been an
incredibly cheap shot.
But really, between a cross-country move, finding and buying
a house, and moving in with Heero… Quatre really wasn’t on my
mind all that much. Mostly on Tuesday and Friday mornings, during my damn
therapy sessions. The terms ‘letting go’ and ‘moving on’
were starting to annoy me. And yeah, there might just have been a little
bit of pissy contrariness in my continued avoidance. I never really have
liked being pushed.
So I suppose I wasn’t in the best frame of mind that
day, having just had another ‘talk’ with Doc Epstein on the
topic. But even so, the last damn place on earth I ever expected to accidentally
run into Quatre was the cat toy aisle at Pet Palace.
I saw him first, but only by about a minute. Just long enough
for it to seriously cross my mind to fade back a few steps and try to get
around the end of the aisle and out of sight. But that was instantly followed
by Doc’s voice talking about avoidance and ‘fight or flight’
and all that trash, and I recognized the instinct and felt guilty. Hesitated
until he happened to glance up and saw me.
It was kind of interesting watching him; I swear to God his
knee-jerk reaction was to physically recoil. He actually stepped back a
pace and then there was this nervous flick of the eyes around, like he was
expecting to be attacked or something. Made me wonder, again, just what
in the hell Heero had told the guy. But then he seemed to kind of piece
the circumstances together in his head, and a weird-ass almost hopeful look
came over him and damned if that didn’t kick me in the ‘flight’
gonads. Which pissed me off at myself and I think I might have frowned,
turning away from him to look at the display of feather wands and mouse
shaped toys that I’d come to see.
Yeah, Heero and I have a cat now. Heero found her wandering
lost on the freeway one morning and ended up stopping to save her from becoming
a road rug; I think I’m wearing off on him. We named her Gertrude.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Quatre open his mouth to
speak, but two kids darted down the aisle with their dust-mop of a dog and
he closed it again, watching them go by. I picked a purple plaid catnip
toy off the rack and gave it a sniff to see how strong it was, wondering
if I could get away with just walking away. Though I suppose the notion
was kind of stupid… not like I could leave the store until the groomer
was done with Reason anyway. Would he just follow me? And then what would
we do? Play some kind of stupid hide and seek game all over the store? Could
I lose him in the puppy petting area? That was always crowded…
Yeah, that thought really made me feel like an idiot of the
twelve-year old variety and I hooked the toy back on the display peg and
turned back around. Now or never, God damn it.
‘So,’ I opened, avoiding all the stupid ‘hello’
shit that we probably would have floundered all over anyway. ‘Trowa
says that you guys have talked about maybe going out again?’
He blinked at me for a second, like maybe I’d taken
the wind out of his opening lines. Or maybe he hadn’t had any but
was on our track and not the Trowa track. ‘Uh… yeah. We’re
going to try dinner.’
‘You think you’re ready for it?’ I blurted
and wondered at myself. Guess my inner child had decided on the ‘deck’
plan. I fussed with the plaid mice, occupying my hands by arranging them
by color spectrum… purple, red, orange, yellow. There wasn’t
a green and I suddenly wanted a green one. That perverse side of my nature
again, I guess. The stone silence coming from the feather wand section of
the aisle made me look at him and I was surprised to find him blushing profusely
and staring at the toes of his shiny dress shoes.
‘I… I’ve been sober for almost five months
now,’ he choked out, and I turned to stare at him rather openly.
‘What?’ I asked and it made him look up at me;
I could see the blush spread as he figured out he’d just confessed
something to me I hadn’t known. He didn’t seem to know what
to say, his jaw muscles twitching as he tried to work it out. I was trying
to work it out too, but was just staring.
I realized that my desire not to deal with Quatre Raberba
Winner had made sure that I was not confronted with any aspect of him. Not
his presence and not news of his life. I had no damn idea what had happened
to him after that nightmare ‘pizza night’ other than a vague
knowledge that he was no longer with Trowa. Sober? What the hell? I wonder
sometimes how long we’d have stood there staring at each other if
my dog hadn’t chosen that moment to drag his giggling groomer around
‘Here’s your pony, Mr. Maxwell!’ Julie told
me, all out of breath and grinning from being dragged across the store.
‘All prettied up again!’
‘Thanks, Julie,’ I smiled, taking the leash from
her and giving Reason his ‘good boy’ pat for finding me. He
liked Julie and the other groomers at the Palace well enough, but I swear
the dog thought we came just so he could play his ‘find the Duo’
game afterward. ‘He looks great!’
My monster chose that moment to jump up, putting his paws
on my shoulders to give me one of his disgusting doggie kisses, his odd
reward for my playing my part of the game properly, I think.
‘Reason,’ I admonished and he hopped back down
while Julie laughed at us, giving Reason a last pat and waving as she went
back to work. My white carpet woofed after her, his flag of a tail waving
enthusiastically as though he somehow knew that it looked quite impressive
all clean and brushed and silky. ‘Show off,’ I muttered and
he looked up at me with his head cocked as if to say, ‘Yeah? And?’
There was a sound from Quatre and when I looked back that
way, it was probably just my imagination that he was a step further away.
‘So… that’s your dog?’ he asked inanely, looking
just a bit freaked out, but I suppose it was better than the fit of humiliation
he’d been having. That moment, at least, seemed to have passed.
‘Yeah,’ I said, just as inanely. Reason has a
way of picking out the interaction people from random other customers and
turned Quatre’s way with his tail still waving, curious to see who
the new guy was. Quatre tentatively held out a hand for Reason to sniff
and my dog happily obliged. He didn’t seem to detect the scent of
space aliens or anything else that upset him, and I found myself oddly…
I don’t know… disappointed that the animal hadn’t instinctively
known that Quatre was an evil man.
Ok, so that was one of my twelve year old moments. Guess it
was kind of stupid to think that mean people should smell funny.
But then Reason looked up at me questioningly, somehow seeming
to get that there was something about the new guy that made me uneasy, and
he came to settle on my feet the way he does when he thinks I need to be
protected from something. I rubbed at his ear gratefully, and wondered if
a dog could be a security blanket. I’d have to talk to Doc Epstein
about it. It was probably one of those ‘not healthy’ issues
that needed to go on my list of things to work on.
Quatre didn’t seem to understand that Reason planting
himself between us meant anything other than the dog belonged to me, but
he stayed focused there anyway, as though it was easier than meeting my
Though his eyes looked a million miles away.
‘My shrink says the odds of working things out with
Trowa aren’t very good,’ he suddenly blurted, confessing it
to my dog and just sort of letting me over hear it. Reason cocked his head,
probably confused by the stressed sound of Quatre’s voice. I didn’t
know what to say to that, but he wasn’t done. ‘He says we don’t
have enough in common and that I should… move on.’
I snorted. There was that phrase again; I really was coming
to hate it. ‘Your shrink’s an ass then,’ I heard myself
say and suddenly Quatre Winner just didn’t seem all that damn scary
any more. And didn’t that thought just hit with a jolt? Scary? Where
had that come from? I had been… afraid of him? Afraid of what? Afraid
of his words? Of his… disdain? I had been avoiding him all the months
I’d been back because… why?
I had not wanted to see Quatre because some part of my head
had been half convinced that he would be able to toss more words at me and
make me… what? Run away again? Break me again? I wanted to laugh thinking
about it; all my assurances to Doc that I ‘got’ that part about
my issues being my own, had just been so much hot air. I’d known it,
but my head hadn’t been convinced. It had never been about Quatre
Winner, it had been about me right from the beginning. He’d never
had the power to hurt me until I’d given it to him.
Completely unaware of my internal epiphany, he turned away
from Reason and ran his fingers through the fronds of a couple of the feathers
next to him. ‘We’re… supposed to have dinner tonight…’
he said, his voice just full of all manner of scared, and hesitant, and
this vague despair. I took a look around and realized just why in the hell
we were where we were.
‘His place?’ I asked and he nodded, his eyes with
that million mile away look again. I shook my head as much at myself as
at him, reaching out to pluck one of the red mice from the rack. ‘Idiot,’
I muttered. ‘Here,’ I said, tossing it to him. ‘Ignore
Gus completely and win over Duncan. Gus will come around when he’s
damn good and ready.’
He caught the toy, finally bringing his gaze up to me and
not my dog, eyes wide with a desperate hope in them that I suddenly realized
had nothing to do with Trowa or cats or… that weird ‘sober’
‘I’m so sorry,’ came out of his mouth all
in a rush, directed at me, sounding like it was something that he’d
been practicing for a long time. He cringed, almost as though he hadn’t
known it was coming, but then bulled forward. ‘I am. Duo… God,
I am so very sorry…’
My name passing his lips made me think of another time and
another place and he seemed to see it, staggering to a halt and that spark
of hope fading in his eyes like a dying ember.
‘Tell it to Trowa,’ I told him gruffly, feeling
sorry for him despite over a year’s worth of resolve to never let
‘I… will,’ he whispered, clutching the mouse
like I’d given him the Hope diamond, and talking to my dog again.
‘I have. But I wronged you too, and… and…’
It was creepy to see him floundering around like that. Creepy
and all kinds of wrong; Papa Winner didn’t raise up no faint-of-heart
children, and Quatre had been the cream of the crop. There was something
fundamentally wrong with seeing Mr. Zero-system struggling with words, his
eyes all shining like he needed a teddy bear or… a stiff drink.
I dry washed a hand over my face, trying to block out the
sight of him that was tugging at all the things that Doc Epstein said were
triggers for me. Orphans, strays, the helpless. God, I wanted to tell him,
don’t make puppy-eyes at me!
I wanted to hate him. I did. And it kind of scared me when
I realized that I really did want that. A man should not actively want to
hate anything. That spoke more about the man than about the object of the
hatred. Sister and Father would have had all manner of things to say about
that, starting with that ‘turn the other cheek’ thing that I’d
never really cared for.
There were a lot of words that were associated with this whole
‘relationship’ thing when the guys spoke about Trowa and Quatre…
‘tentative’, ‘maybe’, ‘try’, ‘uncertain’.
I had to wonder if that was because of me. Was Trowa holding back, waiting
for my judgment? He said that what was between him and Quatre had nothing
to do with me, but… was that really true in the grand scheme of things?
If Trowa truly was my family in heart if not in blood, how could he ignore
my feelings in the matter?
The truth was… he couldn’t. Not really. Even if
he thought he could.
I dropped my hand away from my face and kept the ‘Fuck’
behind my teeth as best I could. Reason looked up at me as if asking if
we could go yet, bored with the whole soul searching thing. I snagged two
more of the mice off the wall, tossing the orange one to Quatre and keeping
the purple for Gertrude.
‘You’re gonna need a second one so they don’t
fight over it once Gus decides you don’t suck,’ I grumbled.
‘Don’t drink anything out of a bottle around him and avoid making
I looked at him hard then, while he couldn’t seem to
figure out what to say. ‘And don’t you fucking hurt my brother
again asshole, or my dog will eat you.’
All he could do was clutch his mice and nod, and I wondered
if I should be amused or scared that the line seemed to fan that spark of
hope into a flame that shone with an old, familiar light of determination.
I doubt that I would ever forget, but maybe I could learn
to forgive… given a few more therapy sessions.
‘Thank you,’ he finally managed, while I thought
about insecurities and cultural gulfs and the odds. Almost, I told him to
ditch his too socially conscious shrink, but decided to leave that one go
for another day. Admitting to myself with a sigh that there were going to
be other days. The box of avoidance was open and there wasn’t going
to be any going back. And I suppose, given enough time, I’d get used
to that idea.
Quatre took a step away, offering up a timid, ‘I’ll
see you?’ as though understanding we’d probably gotten about
as much from the encounter as we were likely to.
I nodded and he headed for the front of the store and the
check-outs, only glancing back once, as though making sure I wasn’t
flipping him off behind his back.
And if I chose to explore the dog treat aisle before checking
out myself, it was only because Reason had been such a patient dog, and
not because of any desire to make sure Quatre was gone first. Really.
Was I a little bit relieved? It was probably too soon to say,
but I supposed it was at least going to make for an interesting dinner conversation
with Heero. I went over opening lines in my head as we made our way through
the store to the bones and chew toys section. ‘So guess who I ran
into today?’ or maybe ‘Quatre says hi’.
I grinned down at Reason. ‘Come on boy, let’s
get you a treat and head for home.’
He wuffed his agreement with the plan, and it was a warm and
comforting thought that I didn’t even think of Devil’s Palm
when I said that word anymore. Home was where Heero was waiting.
back to chapter nineteen
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