Title: Under Your Spell (1/?)
Fandom/Genre: A 'Gundam Wing' Alternate Universe story
Author: Persephone Elysian
Rating: PG-13 at the moment. First person POV (Duo). Maybe a touch of OC-ness. Language, magic, religions discussed, Relena... Rating is subject to change as the story progresses.
Disclaimer: "Gundam Wing" is the property of Bandai, Sunrise, Sotsu Agency.
Thanks: To Amet, for being thoroughly entertained.
Songs are bad. I love 'em, but they can be very, very bad. Why? Because they usually get me writing -- even when I have several other works in progress to finish up. The song in this case was one penned by Joss Whedon for the musical episode of Buffy this season (killer episode, btw) appropriately called, "Under Your Spell." The other source of inspiration was a trip I took to Atlanta in May to visit a friend of mine. For those of you out there who actually live in Atlanta, you may recognize the area I'm talking about (even though I never name it directly). If you think you know it, email me and I'll let you know if you're right.
As the title suggests, this story is about magic (as well as an AU). My discussion of witches in it is part Wicca, part Hollywood glam. So, please don't kill me if I take liberties. I have every respect for Wicca--several of my best friends are Wiccan. So if this for any reason offends, I do offer my heartiest apologies. Further, I also make a discussion of southern life and indeed, religion in the South in general in this. First off, I am a Southerner, have been my entire life. The things I've written about are attitudes and sentiments I've observed myself on occasion. Further any religious sentiments expressed therein are not necessarily those of the author but are put in for the purpose of telling a good (I hope) story.
If I haven't frightened you off, I do hope you'll enjoy the story.
Feedback: Always welcome, always responded to, and properly adored.
Under Your Spell
A 'Gundam Wing' Alternate Universe story
The first time I saw you, you were in the back of a car, a bubblegum blonde on one arm and shades warring with unruly brown locks as to which would obscure your face more. The day was scorching as all summer days are and the top was down on your convertible. Black, I seem to recall and not red which would have suited the blonde more, I think. A nice shade of candy apple to go with the peach of her lip gloss and festive white on red mini-dress. Black was far too somber, bespeaking of something below the surface when there clearly wasn't in this case. I can sense things like this and one look at the girl told me she didn't have a thought in her head beyond her next make-up check.
You were different. At first, I wrote you off just as I had your companion--two spoiled little rich kids slumming on a hot Atlanta afternoon, one of a hundred tourists thronging around our little corner of the world. True, it wasn't much to look at -- just a little triangle area crossing and crisscrossing the area of three streets, some of the shops more weather-beaten than others. And the people... Well, we get all kinds here. It's not out of the ordinary to find a couple of piercing studded goths shopping in the same stores as the Dawson's Creek-ers. We're probably the best kept "secret" in town, most people hearing about us from a friend or friend of a friend.
You're probably wondering where I fit into all this, exposition aside. I work in one of those little shops, the one you probably would never have walked in had it not been for your vapid companion. Walk in you did, however, and it changed everything. For me, that is. I doubt you were registering much at the time beyond your derision at being dragged into "one of those ridiculous New Age chintz shops."
Just because I work here doesn't mean I've suddenly gone deaf and there are just too many people who up and assume that. I'm used to it by now and it took nothing to summon up the old Maxwell grin and stifle the urge to roll my eyes. Never let it be said, I'm not the consummate salesman on occasion.
"Hi, welcome to Blue Moon. Is there anything I can help you with today?"
A grunt followed by a muttered "Just looking," accompanies a flutter of perky activity. I can only wince as a few of the Tribal Statues rock on their pedestals, nearly knocked to the floor as in the wake of a too cutesy backpack/purse. What is it with that anyway? I mean, if you want a backpack, then buy the damn pack and vice versa. What's the point of a purse designed like that? You don't have any more room than before, probably less and they cost enough to buy half the statues on that shelf. Or at least the designer one this chick is carrying around would. There are third world countries that spend less on food in a year than what she spent on her pumps.
Okay, that's harsh and bitter and definitely not beneficial to my karma. Superficiality annoys me and watching pink bubbles being blown and popped dangerously close to the merchandise is not doing anything to help my blood pressure. I wished Aunt Liz would get back so I could take my break. It was well-past noon and with most people heading off to lunch and the stock set out and accounted for, there was very little left for me to do except stand around and wait.
Maybe you were bored or maybe you were trying to give your companion a subtle hint but whatever the reason, you sauntered my way, a sway to your walk that did things--tingly kinds of things and I had to look away. I think that was the first time I really noticed you, noticed more than the expensive Guess-wear and Gucci sunglasses.
The sun outside had bronzed your skin, tints of gold standing out in relief against the deep cobalt color of your polo shirt. There were muscles there, not enough to be disgusting, but compact and tight nevertheless. Almost as tight as those jeans hugging your hips and thighs, possessive as a spent lover. You were scowling, clearly bored as your lips slashed downward, playing with the cell phone in your hand. The sunglasses were the only thing marring the picture, resting atop your nose and hiding your eyes. I couldn't figure out why you would keep them on in here unless it was for the cool factor. Or maybe you just couldn't be bothered.
I've never been so grateful for a counter to stand behind in my life. I rocked back, half-sitting on my stool, staring at my reflection in your sunglasses as you leaned forward, arms and hands resting all over my newly polished countertop. I couldn't help but wonder if the eyes were as nice as the rest of the package. People will tell you that the eyes don't matter, that they're just part of your skin. That's almost true. To me, the eyes are the most important feature. They let me read what I can't glean from aura or behavior. Your looks proclaimed you to be little more than a pretty boy, trying to impress a girl, probably in the hopes of bedding her but there was something else... something I sensed that went deeper than that. I found myself willing you to take off the damn shades so I could gaze into your eyes, to see if it were true or if I am just so bored out of my mind, I'm indulging in wishful thinking.
"Hey," I replied. That's me, Mr. Articulate.
At least I wasn't stuttering. I've been known to do that on occasion. Mostly when my tongue goes faster than my brain can process and I really put my foot in my mouth. Those times, I don't just fall over myself trying to backtrack--I trip and tangle myself up. I don't know why I do it--stutter, I mean. I can be pretty calm and collected on occasion and Quatre says there's no reason I should get as jittery as I do but...
The truth of the matter is that I'm far more comfortable having conversations inside my head than I am in real life. Maybe because I was having so many of them in my head during the early years of my life, talking to people and things that weren't really there, things that other people couldn't see. You see a kid talking to themself and at first you think, 'Aww, how cute. An invisible friend,' and things are all right. For a while, that is. The longer it goes on, the less amusing it becomes until the whispers start. About how, "There must be something wrong with that boy," or even "Have you considered sending Duo to a psychiatrist? He can't seem to interact with other children his own age and frankly, his classmates are beginning to be frightened of him. He talks to himself, whole conversations and well... It's just not normal, now is it?" Somehow in there, the line between cute and concern just dissolves and you're no longer one of the kids, you're singled out as a problem and let me tell you, when adults target in on you, your peers can't help but follow. And so you learn, to hide what you are, to keep silent even as the air buzzes with conversations unheard around you, to stay out of the way and never ever draw attention to yourself. It's hard at first but eventually you get so good at it, that you can't do anything else. You don't just blend into the background, you become the background, never quite able relate or trust again the peers that ostracized you in the first place.
That's part of the reason I started talking to the spirits in the first place. You can't trust people because given a chance they'll hurt you or worse, make you depend on them then leave.
Did this girl depend on you? Did she believe that she was the center of your world and nothing would ever change that? That you would always feel the same and never leave? No, I think not. One glance told the tale--she didn't believe anything, she expected, demanded but there was no fragile sense of hope extended. I almost envy her. She hadn't put her heart on the line and when it got stomped, it would sting, yes but it wouldn't cripple her. Most likely she'd throw a tantrum for a few hours then go shopping for shoes in consolation.
Watching you now, head inclined over the counter, drawing bored patterns over newly wiped glass as you ignore me, too important to talk to the shop keeper, I'm reminded of my first foster family. They were well off too, pristine and dying to enter that set you so easily inhabit with just a breath. The first time they tried to cut my hair, I bit the barber and assistant trying to hold me down. Hard bites for a six year old, hard enough to draw blood and make them turn loose. The second time I didn't wait to get in the car for the long drive--I turn and ran, managing to stay lost for a couple of hours, the duration of which my loving family had decided they had enough and wanted a more docile child. Aunt Liz said that I made myself an orphan by being such a hellion and there may be some truth in that but a child is not a pet and there are far too many families based on the assumption that children are cute little toys that can be put away when one grows tired of them. This is why I have no desire for children now, as much as I enjoy their company--I'm too afraid that I'll fuck them up without even trying because I had no sound basis for what an actual family should be like until the Aunts came along. And I have enough trouble being responsible for taking care of me some days, let alone a small child.
The question surprises me. True, it's banal and polite, a "safe" question if any question can be considered safe. I wasn't expecting you to speak though and it takes me a minute to get past the sound of your voice. Deep and rough it rolls off your tongue and onto the air like a slow baked wave, the kind throbbing off the sun-drenched macadam outside. It's almost a rumble but misses it by a few softer notes. "Go-go," I grimaced, catching myself. So much for not sounding like a blithering idiot. "Good. Picking up now that the schools are out. Still kind of slow some afternoons."
That earned me an absent nod and another one of those polite, meaningless questions, "How long have you been working here?"
"Since I was ten. One of my aunts own the shop."
For some reason, that got your attention, and for the first time, you were actually seeing me, not some nameless stock person. Despite the sunglasses, I could feel your eyes pooling over me, over the loose flannel overshirt and dingy jeans I wore, the braid flopping over one shoulder and the black ribbon of a pendant hidden from view. Something was adding up in that head of yours, I didn't need to see your eyes to tell me what body language screamed and I was guessing that it something I probably wasn't going to want to hear.
"You don't actually buy into any of this, right?" He snorted, propping on an elbow and finally lowering his glasses on his nose. I caught a glimpse of haughty blue.
"This what?" I was careful with my words. For all its push towards modernism, the South, particularly the Deep South (which Georgia qualified as), was not overwhelmingly supportive of alternate religions. The Old Guard was still in control and no matter how many different values kids were exposed to thanks to television and communication, there was no getting around that. A slow change in attitude was taking place and although Atlanta was definitely more open about certain lifestyle choices, every once in a while, you still run into a dyed in the wool Baptist vacillating between outright threats of damnation and pleas to join the true faith. Most of the time, I just save myself some trouble and claim agnosticism. For some reason that just gets pamphlets shoved in your hands and invites to a revival which is infinitely preferable to the other. I can smile and nod at some well-meaning grandmother in Sunday wear preaching to me the joys of Christ and the Church; it's a lot less messy and if you make enough of the appropriate noises, they go away after a bit, allowing you to go on with your life.
You're lucky it's me you're dealing with and not Aunt Liz. Liz was a sweet woman but questioning her beliefs hit every wrong nerve in her body at least three times over.
"All this," I gesture around me, "it-- it--isn't just one unified religion put on display as a lark for the tourists. There are people who do buy into this 'New Age chintz.' If you're asking me if I'm a follower of the Goddess, then yeah I guess I do buy into all of it."
That's the most in one sentence I've ever revealed to someone not in my immediate circle of friends and I'm almost dizzy from the rushed way it spills out. I'm not sure what compulsion drove me to run headlong into this, words coming so fast that there was no time to stutter and stammer, but it's important. It was important that I tell you, even at the risk of exposing myself to ridicule or disgust, I can feel that as surely as I can feel unseen movement in the air around me, tense with waiting, the voices silent for once. They're waiting, too, I can feel it and that makes me more anxious than I care to admit.
I'm knotting up inside just from the waiting and I keep my hands out of sight, realizing from experience that they're probably shaking as much from pent up emotion as from nervousness. I don't do well with confrontations, mostly because it involves more interaction than I want to deal with and like it or not, I'm tensing in preparation for one. If Quat were here, he'd roll his eyes at me with a, "For Chrissake, Duo! Don't start hyperventilating on us."
You seem to be struggling with what to say, open scorn twitching at the corners of your mouth. I can already feel myself wanting to wilt into the background, cursing myself for being an idiot who couldn't keep his mouth shut. I deserve it, I do. I know better and I let my tongue get away with me.
"But it's so disorganized. How on earth can you?"
Okay, even I have to admit that was not what I was expecting. Some rabid denunciation, or attempt at immediate conversion or even some muttering about superstitious twaddle but this... I'm pretty sure I'm staring, mouth agape as I struggle with something to say to that.
"I mean, there's no central guiding deity or set of lay rules. The principles are so haphazard how can anyone be expected to know what's right to follow," You continued, fingers drumming against the glass. "I could understand if there was a bit more structure but how can you even begin to follow something with no discipline. You'd do just as well being an atheist--less ceremony involved, too."
"That's not precisely true," I argued. "All goddesses are merely different faces of our Goddess. It doesn't matter what name you call her, she hears you."
"Sophistry. All you're doing is playing with words now. And--"
"Excuse me?" That cutesy drawl, almost a whine catches both of our attention. The blonde was batting her eyelashes at both of us, mouth drawn in a pouty moue as if to scold us for dare averting our attention elsewhere. She jabbed a finger at the right side of the counter. "How much are those?"
Another quick glance at her companion and I'm on my feet, surprised to find her pointing at the set of ivory cameos, each with a different incarnation of the Goddess adorning them. I thought she would have hit the silver or gold to be honest and I grudgingly give her a couple more points in the taste department than I had initially. "Those are Goddess medallions. Each one is of a different--"
"Heero, I want that one!"
Rolling my eyes, I hold my tongue and just stand there, trying not to gag as the girl latches on to you, nearly dragging you to the floor for a better look. The warm pit in my stomach is something of a surprise as I watch you tug or rather, attempt to tug your arm out of her death grip. I'm less than pleased however by the way your head leans towards hers, lips almost grazing her earlobe as you hold a low voiced, pointed conversation. I'm sure had I leaned closer I might have picked up on less than flattering terms like 'chintz', 'New Age bullshit' and other terms. Lucky me, I didn't have to with her shrilling out every other word like a wronged child.
"But Heero!" Lord and Lady, I wanted to stick both fingers in my ears, her whine like nails down several rough chalkboards. "They're pretty."
Exasperation is cute on you as hands get thrown in the air, bangs flopping this way and that. "Fine, Relena. You've got money, spend it."
That was apparently not the response she wanted. Her perfect, glossy pink lower lip wobbled, porcelain dolly features cracking. "But you're supposed to buy it for me." Breathy voice, a hint of pleading and tears -- the perfect weapon for manipulation. I disliked her before and now I'm well and jolly on the way to active loathing.
This is doing all sorts of irreparable harm to my karma.
It's almost amazing how rapidly the hurt transforms into shocked offense. "Because you're my date, Heero." She sounds like she's trying to enunciate every word, just in case you miss any of it. "You're supposed to pay for me. It's the--the gentlemanly thing to do."
Oh, no. She did not just say that? Say no, I want to speak up. Tell her to take her money and --
"Fine," The word was sullen but you were giving in nonetheless. I can't say I'm not a little disappointed. About everything. Then you lift your head towards me, spearing me with another of those slow glacial glares and it's hard to think about anything other than how blue your eyes are and how nicely your calves shift and budge as you hunker there. "How much?"
The question startles me, I think because you're speaking to me again, as sudden as the last time. "Uh, it's um --"
Her blue eyes join yours, less deep and more impatient. I can feel myself going red, the back of my neck and ears heating up as I curse myself. "Six-sixteen. Sixteen dollars." 'Good boy', I think sarcastically. 'See, you can get a couple words out if you try hard enough.'
"Which one?" Your attention goes back to her and she bats her eyes at you, almost preening. I swear if she coos I'll strangle her with that tiny purse.
"How about --" She pauses and I really do want to roll my eyes again. She doesn't even know what the hell she wants--she just wants someone to spend money on her. She's probably even accustomed to it. "That one!"
Her finger jabs at the glass, hovering just a carving of stately woman, resplendent in veil and diadem, a bird perched aloft a long staff. The artist had inked in exquisite detail a fan of peacock feathers in the background, and with a little imagination one might almost imagine a sunset of blues and purples and greens seeping out around the figure. I steady my face as I reach in, glancing over the glass at her. "You're sure this is the one you want?"
Oookay, I give up and remove it from the case, a bit spooked by her unknowing prescience. I hold it up for both of them to examine, good salesmanship coming through whether I like it or no. "This is Juno," I say, then add helpfully. "Queen of the Gods. To the Romans, at least."
Her face relaxes with a released breath while yours doesn't so much as twitch. No recognition there, I guess. "She's beautiful."
I think and then decide to play it safe. "Yes." No lie there. Juno could be beautiful; she was a mother and patroness of marriages. When her own wasn't at stake, that was. It was just her other aspect, the other face that the Romans tried to gloss over with respectability.
To each his own.
"Would you like it wrapped?" I ask, stepping over to the cash register, scanning the bar code and glaring at it when it beeped. It was a new machine, only a few months old and it was already giving us gyp. I almost wish Aunt Lizzie hadn't gotten rid of the old register. Sometimes it's easier to just do things the old fashioned, number crunching way than to rely on the computer to get it right first time or three or around.
"Can I wear it out?" She thrusts herself at me, eyes that were scornful, now puppyish, enough wheedling writ therein to melt a stone. It makes me want to shudder and I cover it with a cough and faint smile. More squealing ensues. Goddess, protect my ears.
Trinket in hand, she twirls around, peering at you expectantly, hands holding the black-ribboned pendant just away from her. There's no mistaking what she wants. And there's no mistaking the affectionate shaking of your head as you take the offered gift, waiting until she turns around again, lifting her hair off her neck. I suddenly feel like a voyeur in my own shop, hands clammy as I watch. Even the simple gesture of getting the necklace around her throat--well, you make it elegant, fluid and alive. My skin almost damn near burns when your fingers brush her neck, fumbling with the silver clasps. No wonder she's radiating smugness. I would be too, in her position-- if I weren't giving long thoughts to chucking the box at her.
"There," You say, and your hands rest lightly on her shoulders. I feel kind of funny, chest pounding and head kind of Dizzy, you know? Not a pleasant feeling. No, I feel like I'm gonna throw up. I can feel the air stirring around me, the others touching my skin with icy paws, trying to offer comfort. I want to wave them off and can't, just settle on a huff of thought that says, 'Leave me alone.' That only makes things worse because now they know for sure I'm upset and I'm assailed by the feel of a million cold crawling things all over me and as many voices on the wind, a wind that only I can hear.
I'm sullen as I run through the pricing and payment. The Aunts would have my head if they saw the way I'm acting but I feel like I've been kicked in the gullet and it's all I can do to get the words out. God, you'd think I'd been betrayed or something.
"Here's your receipt," My voice sounds dull, far off as I shove the box, now in a handy paper bag across the counter.
She's already outside, no doubt planning her next purchase and I can't say I'm sorry to see her go. A few more minutes in here and I might have Have what, Duo? Smacked her? Yeah, right. You'd have stuttered and then shut up and had to go away quietly, ready to die from shame because they were both laughing at you.
I focus on you again, surprised to see you still here, examining me with such intent I wonder if I have something on my face or between my teeth. "Yeah?"
I have to say it-- I love your hair, love the way it just moves with you, uncontrollable in spite of your attempts to smooth it out. There's something in your eyes now, a quiet humor that makes me perk up. "Suits her," You speak at last, picking up the baggage.
Blue eyes flash and I can see your mouth give in, almost sliding upward. Almost. "She can be a real bitch on occasion."
Be still my gaping heart.
"Jealous," You elaborate. I nod dumbly, not sure of what's happening here. The undercurrent has changed again and everything is charged. Coiled. Your eyes shift over me again, that intense regard making me uncomfortable. That's a lie. Not uncomfortable just skin tingly. "It was nice meeting you."
"Yeah, you, too." I call after you, mind too busy to make the connection that it won't make until later--that you never once asked my name.
The door almost shuts and then your head pops back in. "And I still think you're just playing with words. "
***End of Part One