The Arabian Doll [Part One]
The air was cold even without the wind blowing. The tip of his nose was bright red as a result of the freezing weather. Even his cheeks started to feel numb despite his efforts to cover them up with his gloved hands. Refuge was only a few steps away, yet he thought it absurd to call such a place his refuge. It was an ice cream shop after all.
Trowa shook his head. It was just like Duo to seek comfort in the most unlikely places even if it were the last place he'd ever think of spending a cold afternoon.
"My fingers," he murmured to himself and abandoned the warmth that was being delivered to his cheeks. Instead, he stuffed his already gloved hands into his coat pockets. He was almost at his destination anyway.
When he arrived, Trowa opened the glass door to find that the jingle of tiny bells above him needlessly announced his arrival. All the patrons in the shop couldn't help but look toward his direction. Trowa nodded although he was greeting no one in particular. There was just something about other people's eyes on him that forced a curt greeting out.
Trowa turned his head toward the direction of the voice and found his target. Duo Maxwell was sitting comfortably on one of the cushioned chairs, stuffing his mouth with what looked like strawberry ice cream sprinkled with peanuts. It was hard not to notice when it was all over his mouth.
"Did you find one?" Trowa started without first greeting his long-time friend. It was useless to make small talk when he knew that the other would start anyway.
He took out his coat and his gloves and noticed how warm it was inside the cozy little shop. Satisfied that he wasn't going to freeze any further, he took a seat opposite Duo. His friend was continuing to enjoy his ice cream as he talked.
"Geez, Trowa. Where's the friendly greeting?"
Trowa didn't answer and instead stared at Duo with as much indifference as a rock sitting on the ground. In truth, he was more fascinated with the concoction before his eyes. Layers upon layers of creamy ice cream were piled on top of four glorious slices of banana. The presentation was not bad. In fact, the syrup dripping from the top was perfectly balanced against the sprinkle of nuts scattered all over the dessert.
"Tro, are you listening?"
He nodded apathetically as if his mind was not wandering as much as it was. He forced himself to tear his eyes away from Duo's current treat and rubbed his hands together, remembering to check each of his long, pointed fingers.
"You haven't been researching, have you?" he asked without looking up. In addition to friendship, Duo shared a more professional kind of relationship with him. Duo was head of his research and development department, if you could call it that. Well, he was head because he was the only one working in the department but at least it made his comrade feel special.
"I have!" Duo defended. "In fact, did you know that the Neapolitan ice cream was first invented in a town of the same name somewhere in Italy? They were the first to combine chocolate, vanilla and strawberry and turn it into something completely different."
Trowa put his hands down on the table and then regarded the head of his research department, the only employee he actually had.
"I meant about the Arabian doll. Did you find an Arabian model?"
Duo looked surprised that Trowa had asked such a thing when in fact he was supposed to have already found the model. When he finally remembered what he was supposed to be doing, he hit his head with the back of his hand, making sure to avoid the sticky leftovers that were covering it.
"Oh that research," Duo said while sending him a sheepish gin. "I found this book."
Trowa reached for the offered book, making sure to pay attention to the title.
"Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," he read aloud. It was a strange title, but the book sounded familiar somehow. It felt like the types of bedtime stories that parents would read to their children before sending them off to bed.
Trowa opened the book and examined the inside, taking note of the multitudes of illustrations that littered the pages. Inside were pictures of exotic people dressed in extravagant silks that barely covered their bodies. Some of the illustrations depicted men in vests and square hats riding camels and walking on desert sands.
Trowa closed the book and returned it to Duo.
"I wanted an Arabian male," Trowa said quite simply. Duo looked disappointed.
"Can't you work with pictures?" his friend said while delivering another spoonful of ice cream into his mouth.
Trowa leaned back. His newest job was difficult. He knew it from the moment he took it. However, it was doable and anything that was requested of him, he was sure to fulfill. Still, the job was different. It was the type he had been waiting for. It was the project he had wanted to do for so long, yet it was complicated in its own way. The model was hard to find. He could already guess by the way Duo presented him with the book that finding the right person was almost impossible. His comrade had always been the best in finding the models fit for his projects, so if Duo didn't find it then it meant that it couldn't be found.
"You get a little rough with the models, if you know what I mean," Duo continued, unaware that Trowa was just itching to do the job. "Last I heard from that brunette you were working with, you're pretty much unconcerned about the effects of your own methods. You almost disjointed her arm from her shoulder. You call that art. I call it scary."
Trowa crossed his arms and then looked at the adjacent window, unaffected by what Duo had just said. The sidewalk was littered with people despite the cold weather outside. There should have been at least one Arab in the throng of people passing by. That was Trowa's only concern.
"I already had a fireplace installed for her," Trowa answered, referring to the way he'd been treating the last model he worked with. "The ones you bring me tend to be difficult. I suspect you pick them specifically to make me suffer."
"Are you telling me that they're lying?" Duo asked with a laugh. His dessert was halfway done. "You're pretty much a sadist Tro. Who in the world would twist someone that painfully just to get the right details on a doll? You're insane buddy, but don't worry because I still love you all the same."
True, his methods were rather unusual but it was the way he created his finest masterpieces. He wasn't the most well-known doll maker in the area for nothing. Of course, it wasn't just his craftsmanship that was to be credited. Duo did have an eye for body symmetry. The man could pinpoint the best body shape of any living creature a mile away even if they were covered in heavy clothing. It was almost as if he undressed his subjects and determined their match for Trowa's projects with his eyes. The only downside to his gift was that Duo tended to pick the ones with the worst personalities.
"They're only nice when you're around," Trowa said, attempting to defend himself from the ridiculous claims. He could have been rough, but he was never rude. "Are you sure you haven't found me an Arabian male or are you protecting the poor, unsuspecting victim from me?"
"Eh," Duo answered, sounding unsure. "That's not it. I found you one, but you're not going to like him."
"Bad attitude?" Trowa inquired just to make sure. At least if he knew the flaw, he would able to get a head start on it.
"No. Not bad attitude. Bad match."
Trowa leaned forward on the table, unsure of what Duo had meant. His head of research always found him the best match and for him to be so unsure of something was unheard of.
"What do you mean bad match?" Trowa asked him.
"You saw the pictures in the book, right?"
Duo hesitated for a moment before wiping his hands on a napkin. He positioned his head on a lazy hand and then looked at Trowa, seeming to stall the inevitable.
"You see, this Arabian I found," he started.
"He's really pale with blonde hair and a pair of impossibly huge blue-green eyes. Oh, and before I forget, he isn't as bulky as those men in the pictures. I know you're a guy who's always looking for 'the' perfect match so you might not be too happy about it."
Trowa raised his eyebrow in question. Duo's description was a complete opposite of the characters depicted in the supposedly classic Arabian book he had just been viewing earlier. He couldn't have possibly been talking about the same thing.
"How did you know this guy was Arabian?" he asked, just to make sure Duo knew what he was talking about.
"I asked him."
"How did you find him?" Trowa asked more specifically. Perhaps he could determine the authenticity of the person based on the source.
"I was walking around in the street asking some random people if they were Arabian and this guy just happened to be close by so I asked him. He said yes."
It sounded so simple that Trowa wasn't going to fall for it that easily.
"Your methods have gotten sloppy," he reprimanded Duo. It wasn't like him to simply walk around, asking people about their background. Then again, it was how he accidentally came across some of Trowa's best models.
"Before you pull that whole 'you should be more responsible' speech on me, I'll have you know that I had this whole area checked and there's only one registered Arabian male living around here. If you don't trust me, we could always ship one from Arabia or wherever it is they're abundant."
"I don't have that kind of money," Trowa said. It was frustrating. He never worked without a model and there was a very good reason for it. He couldn't. To him, working without something to touch was like working blind.
He contemplated the dilemma. It was either he take his chances with the supposed Arabian male or give up the chance to work on the project he'd been waiting for. He wasn't really willing to give up so easily.
"I'll use him," Trowa said with finality. No matter what the flaw, his client was sure to love his work because he was the best. It wasn't likely that his client would have room to complain considering that he'd been given full control over the project.
"I knew you would," Duo said and then leaned back with his arms crossed behind his head. He smiled and then winked at Trowa. "He'll be at your place at ten tomorrow morning."
Trowa nodded in satisfaction. Duo always came through for him.
It was another cold morning, the same way it had been for the past month. However, his place was a suitable sanctuary where the heat was comfortable and his materials were available. That was all he needed - a cozy atmosphere where he could delve into his masterpieces to his heart's content. All that was lacking was a subject.
He was not to be disappointed that day. Exactly as Duo promised, his model was at his door at ten o'clock sharp, not one minute late. In fact, the man had been accompanied by Duo and was undetectable save for the furry hood that was visible from Duo's back.
Trowa wordlessly welcomed them inside but was nice enough to take their coats.
"It was nice of you to start up the fire already," Duo greeted and went straight for the fireplace, forgetting that he'd yet to introduce his companion. The newcomer did not look like he minded although he did look uncomfortable standing motionless in a strange place.
"Aren't you going to introduce me?" Trowa started, trying to relieve the uneasiness building up in the room. Just because Duo felt comfortable didn't mean that everybody else in the room did.
"Ah! How rude of me," Duo exclaimed and immediately went back to the person he'd brought, cheerily announcing his name to Trowa.
"This is Quatre Winner, the only registered Arabian male around here. Quatre, this is Trowa, famous, almighty, high-priced doll maker."
"I prefer the term artist," Trowa interrupted.
Relaxing because of the friendlier atmosphere, Quatre sighed and Trowa was surprised to see the difference between the supposed authentic Arabian before him and the pictures in the supposed authentic book. He knew then that he would just have to compensate for the differences, but that was a concern he was going to deal with later.
Instead of asking any questions, Trowa eyed his newest model, scrutinizing each of the man's features as if ready to transfer him into molding within the next few minutes. This made Quatre uneasy, but Trowa didn't notice. It was only Duo's friendly yet violent shove that made him aware. That was when he realized that Quatre was staring meekly at the ground.
"Tro, you're scaring him already," Duo whispered to him. "Promise me you won't turn him into a bag of bones. I kind of like this guy."
"I already told you that I'm not as bad as you think I am," Trowa answered back defensively.
"You could at least say something welcoming."
In response to Duo's request, Trowa shoved Duo's coat on his arms and gently pushed him out the door. When he was sure Duo wouldn't return, he faced his newest subject and said a quick greeting. After he was sure that Quatre had been settled in, he lead him to his work area and pulled a stool from under the table.
"Take off you clothes and sit," he commanded. It never occurred to him that he was being rude.
Obviously appalled by the extraordinary request, Quatre stepped back and Trowa did not fail to notice.
"Umm, I don't think I signed up for something like this," Quatre said quickly. It was the first time Trowa heard him speak.
"You did," Trowa answered and looked at him indifferently. He wasn't exactly the most tactful person around, but he wasn't about to care much about it. He always got to the point. There was only one type of person he disliked and that was the type who didn't do what they were told.
"Why do I need to take my clothes off?"
"I need to touch you," Trowa answered, cracking his fingers to get ready to work. Quatre clearly did not understand what he said. He looked disgusted even. Trowa had to rephrase that.
"I mean," Trowa tried to explain again, exasperated. "I need to know the contours of your body to recreate it in clay. I'm making a sculpture of you and it wouldn't do if I didn't carve an underlying shape. I have no intention of doing any more."
Why did it always have to be so difficult?
"No," Quatre said indignantly.
Trowa turned sharp eyes toward him and caught his first true glimpse of his newest subject. He had scrutinized him earlier but only went so far as to notice the patch of skin that was visible from the man's collar. Trowa had traced a single vein running up his neck and disappearing into his jaw. He hadn't even really looked at his face until now. He was surprised. Quatre was a visage of beauty unlike he'd ever seen before.
Beneath Quatre's long strands of hair was a face that even cherubs wouldn't dare compare with. His determined eyes were a picture of perfection against a complexion that was in dire need of the sun's rays. His mouth, accentuated by slightly pouting, slightly puckered lips was shaped to temp someone else's. Trowa could only imagine what the result of his project would be. Duo did know how to pick them well.
"You're probably going to do my face first so there's no need for me to take off anything. Besides, I'd get cold just sitting naked in that creaking stool."
Trowa nodded, never betraying the inner workings of his mind. In truth, he was excited, excited to mold and replicate such a visage of beauty. He had always had an earnest desire to bring life to mere clay and turn it into his next masterpiece. Quatre was going to be the subject of that masterpiece.
"Can I sit then?" Quatre asked, rubbing his arms. Trowa took this as a sign and added another log to the crackling fire.
"Of course," he answered, checking to see the condition of his fingers before he began. They were his greatest possessions after all. "We'll take a break when you feel like one. Just tell me when you want me to stop."
With that said, Trowa began meticulously feeling the curves of Quatre's head. Every bump that he would come across was no exception. When he was satisfied, he moved on to the undone clay, replicating the movement of his fingers against Quatre's head. It was a tedious process that he repeated over and over again, yet Quatre didn't seem distressed or bored. Trowa was surprised. Usually, they complained within five minutes of starting.
Making sure Quatre was indeed comfortable with it, Trowa observed him from the corner of his eyes. He noticed the way Quatre would in turn observe him as he molded the clay. They were watching each other and it was getting quite interesting.
"You like working with your hands," Quatre stated after several more minutes of silence. It was more of an observation than a question. Trowa did not make an effort to affirm nor deny his statement.
Strangely enough, Quatre did not speak again and neither did Trowa for the rest of their session. The two worked together in silence, even ate together in silence. At the end of the day, Quatre left without saying a word. He was a complete mystery. Trowa could only wonder how long his subject would last. Even Duo couldn't have probably guessed it.