“We should have gotten today off too,” Heero murmured as he set Duo down on his desk and tried to decide whether it was yet warm enough in here to take off his jacket.

Duo didn’t answer. Instead, a voice behind Heero said, “And why is that?” He turned to face Dorothy, not having realized she’d followed him into his cubicle. As usual, she looked simultaneously amused and accusatory. “You guys have taken a lot of time off lately. It must be nice to be a Winner’s best friend.”

“Yes,” Heero replied calmly, “it is.” He didn’t answer her question.

She didn’t repeat it. Dorothy was very good at picking her battles. “Medford’s systems are down,” she informed him instead. “You probably have fifty emails waiting already. Send anything my way you think I can handle.”

In some consternation, Heero turned back toward his computer and began logging on from his standing position. “Thanks,” he told Dorothy abstractedly.

On any other day he would have grumbled a bit about the greater and more complicated workload, but today it was exactly what he needed to keep him occupied and distracted. Which did not by any stretch of the imagination mean that he didn’t think about the doll on the desk beside him or the man that doll would hopefully become tonight — but at least he managed to keep that to every other thought.

Mid-morning he received an email from Quatre: I’m going to have to fly out to Medford tomorrow. I am so frustrated.

I’m sorry, Heero wrote back. He felt his friend’s pain, but couldn’t help being secretly glad that it was Quatre’s and not his own. Maybe have Trowa magic you out there tonight after everything’s over, and stay in a hotel?

Quatre’s answer read, That’s a good idea, but he can’t jump there if he can’t get a clear mental picture of it, and I haven’t been there often enough for that.

Maybe he has, though.

Maybe. Heero could almost hear the sigh in this single-word response. He shook his head.

As usual, bored with the monotony of a workday he wasn’t technically part of, Duo jumped eagerly on the movement. Figuratively speaking. “What’s up now?”

Heero explained.

“It is so nice that you guys took the day off in the first place,” Duo said sincerely in response. “I mean, for you it already makes sense, since you’ll definitely need a day off after this last month of hell… but it’s just a really nice gesture from Quatre.”

This was a perfect opening for Heero to explain that Quatre also had a specific interest in this beyond politeness or even friendship… but, as usual, he couldn’t find the words. Not when Duo was looking forward so happily to becoming human tonight. So he merely nodded slowly, as if continually distracted by his email — though in reality his eyes were locked there solely because he couldn’t bring himself to turn them toward Duo at that moment.

At lunch time, Heero was distressed to find that it was only lunch time. He felt like he’d already been here a whole day plus overtime, but was, in fact, barely halfway done. His mood wasn’t improved by the awareness that he was unlikely to be able to avoid some overtime, given that he was absolutely not coming in tomorrow and therefore needed to make sure everything was set up to go smoothly without him even if they were still supporting Medford. This would put something of a burden on Dorothy, and, though he rather hated to admit it, Heero would owe her one. But he still wasn’t coming in tomorrow.

“So here’s our last lunch in this random parking lot,” Duo commented; Heero, pulling into the area in question, had to remind himself rather firmly that the pleasure in the doll’s tone probably had more to do with his desire to become human again than his disliking of spending lunchtimes with Heero in a random parking lot. When Heero just nodded, Duo went on, “And your last day having to explain me if anyone asks.”

Unfastening his seat belt and rolling down his window, Heero nodded again.

“You know, though,” Duo mused on, “I don’t think I ever heard you give a real excuse for having me there anyway. So it’s not like me not being there is going to change much.”

Heero thought it would actually change quite a lot about his job not having Duo there. As tiresome as being the in-house entertainment had been for the first few weeks, once that had died down he’d never felt anything but satisfaction at having Duo with him all day. The ability to turn to him and strike up a conversation about anything at any point (depending on who else was around, of course) easily allayed all of the little frustrations many of Heero’s co-workers often caused. He was going to miss him more than he could say.

He didn’t attempt to say any of this, however. Instead he just admitted, “I never did think of an excuse that didn’t sound completely stupid.”

“You know what you should have said? You should have said you had to take me to work for a whole month because you lost a bet. With Quatre, maybe. I bet he would have played along and everything.”

Heero turned to stare at him, surprised and perhaps a little annoyed. “You could have made that suggestion a month ago.”

“I would have,” Duo said sheepishly, “if I’d thought of it any time before just now.”

With a smile of defeat, Heero shook his head. “Well, it’s almost over, so we can just let everyone keep wondering.”

Hopefully it’s almost over,” Duo muttered.

Heero nodded. He’d been trying to avoid thinking about the dog thing, but it was impossible not to taste occasionally the undercurrent of doubt that event had set in motion. Because the awareness was always there, beneath everything else, that even after so much toil and pleasant looking forward, it was still possible that nothing would happen tonight.

Of course there was another possibility they had not discussed at all — that the curse would end while Heero was still at work, and there Duo would be unexpectedly, a stranger in the midst of business and everyone, and Heero really would have to come up with an excuse this time. This particular possibility, however, far from being discouraging and worthy of avoidance like the other, struck Heero as rather amusing — which was fortunate, as he had need of amusement for the rest of that day.

He tried not to watch the clock, since he already knew he wasn’t going to leave until everything he needed to get done got done and everything was ready for his absence tomorrow — rather than the swift departure maybe a couple of minutes shy of five on which he’d originally planned — but even before Duo started asking him approximately every six and a half minutes what time it was, he marked the coming and going of 2:07, 2:20, 2:39, 2:42, and 2:56. Then the three o’clock hour passed in agony, and Heero couldn’t even bring himself to berate Duo for his constant demands, as his own eyes were on the computer clock more often than not anyway.

There was a tension steadily growing in the air that would not be dispelled by any words — even words that weren’t about how many minutes had passed since the last words. Heero thought that, at least on his side, words unsaid played some part in this. He should have told him by now; he should have told him long before this. And yet he just kept at his work in restless impatience and uncertainty, and the tension grew. He thought even Dorothy sensed it, when she came to consult with him about something… though it was nothing unusual to receive an odd look from Dorothy, especially these days, and Heero didn’t much fancy pursuing the reason for this one.

Duo certainly felt it… between four and five, his time-related inquiries came gradually to be replaced, mostly, by impatient humming and cursing under his breath at intervals. He waved his arms and legs in a distracting little sort of dance, and again Heero could not bring himself to find fault with the behavior; though he wasn’t given to fidgeting, and had other things to do anyway, he couldn’t deny that he was in exactly the same mood.

Every minute past five o’clock was downright torturous. If not for the minor Medford disaster, he would have been home by 5:20, and he was more than aware of this with each sixty seconds that passed. Duo had taken to whining intermittently and levering himself around the desk as best he was able, pausing comically if it sounded like anyone was drawing near and might notice him, which was even more distracting than what he’d been doing before.

The final straw was when Quatre — office-addict, uphold-the-business-honor-of-the-Winner-family Quatre — showed up in Heero’s cubicle and announced that, since he was being robbed of what was supposed to be his day off tomorrow, he wasn’t going to stay any longer tonight. Quatre was leaving before Heero.

“That’s it,” Heero grumbled the moment his friend was gone. “I’m done after this.” He gesture at his monitor almost angrily. “They can figure things out themselves.”

“We really can, you know,” came Dorothy’s sardonic voice from behind him. She’d stayed late for about the same reasons Heero had, and had probably wandered over now to see what the result of his visit from Quatre would be; though she didn’t know exactly what was going on, it wouldn’t take a genius to see that something was. “I’m impressed that you’re even still here. Go home.”

Heero glanced around and up at her. She was giving Duo that thoughtful look again.

Finally he nodded. It wasn’t as if the quality of his work wasn’t deteriorating rapidly at the moment anyway. He saved his current progress, told his computer to shut off, and started gathering his things.

“I’m looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday,” was Dorothy’s somewhat odd goodbye as Heero, having shrugged into his jacket, took Duo in one hand and his briefcase in the other and pushed his chair in with his knee. He didn’t pause to find out what she meant, just nodded as he hastened past her, and then practically broke into a run to get off the sales floor and out of the building.

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