Trowa’s warning had not been untimely. Heero wondered how he would have reacted to this if he hadn’t been given a heads-up beforehand that he would start hearing Duo’s thoughts sometime soon.

From a sort of buzz at first, almost as if some of his own thoughts were developing too lazily and obscurely for him to understand properly, it had grown into an undeniable awareness of conceptions not his own, silent statements he hadn’t formed. Still they were vague — nothing more than general impressions, really — but they were suffused with the idea of Duo, and that familiar and beloved sense served, to some extent, to smooth over a feeling that was odd and might otherwise have been frightening.

Heero believed himself extremely lucky. What if this had started at work, and it had been the thoughts of half the sales floor he’d begun picking up on? He was silently grateful to Trowa for letting him know this would happen, and grateful to Duo just for being here when it did… even if he wasn’t terribly pleased at what he was hearing blurrily from Duo’s head.

That Heero really had screwed up yesterday was clear. It seemed so simplistically obvious, in retrospect, that he should talk to Duo first about something so personal, but somehow that had not occurred to him. And now Duo was reflecting unhappily about therapy and the manner in which Heero had presented that idea. The specifics of those thoughts Heero still wasn’t getting, but the gist of it was clear, and made him feel guilty and uneasy.

“Anything good?” Duo asked suddenly, under the impression that Heero’s long silence resulted from something other than being suddenly captivated by the awareness of his boyfriend’s thoughts.

He was going to have to tell Duo about this, and soon: you couldn’t neglect to inform someone, especially someone so close, that you could hear any thought he didn’t actively try to hide from you. But it would probably be a lengthy conversation, and, no matter how interesting it was to be able to tap into Duo’s brainwaves, Heero had something crucial and possibly time-sensitive to work on right now. So, “No,” he said, forcing himself to concentrate on the computer in front of him even as Duo’s reflections continued behind him. He opened a new window and tried another search. “No, nothing yet. I’ll tell you when I find something.”

On the potential dangers of destroying artifacts, the internet did have some interesting information. Apparently, as made perfect sense, an artifact’s magical energy was released all at once upon its destruction, which could affect spells and cause general havoc. If the artifact had borne some specific affinity, then some specific and potentially unwanted effect could be triggered as well — for example, the destruction of a fire-related item might set its surroundings aflame. Heero didn’t know how this would apply to an artifact with an affinity with the moon, nor did most of these details seem to help much.

“Have you heard of this artifact power scale?” he asked after a while — partially because he really wanted to know, and partially because Duo’s thoughts were distracting him.

“Yeah, a little. They number them one through five, don’t they?”

“It looks like some of them use numbers, and some of them use names.” Heero scrolled down. “But since there are six names, they don’t line up perfectly with the five numbers. Oh, and here’s a third scale… this one has three named classifications that each have three numbered subcategories.”

“That sounds like magicians,” Duo admitted with a half grin. This led him, fairly naturally, to start thinking about Trowa and Trowa’s lengthy experience as a magician, and wondering what Trowa and Quatre were up to and whether Trowa had made any progress or useful discoveries.

It was painfully obvious that Heero was going to have to learn to deal with intruding thoughts if he was ever to get any work done again. Remembering what Trowa had said, Heero guessed that he might not start hearing the thoughts of people he wasn’t as close to for a while, so this was the perfect chance — perhaps the only chance — to practice. He took a deep breath and firmly directed his endeavors.

At least with these classifications of artifact power, he had terms he could use for more productive searches. However, ‘destroying a level 5 artifact,’ ‘destroying a Roussel-class artifact,’ and ‘destroying a rank 1 major artifact’ all continually gave him the same answer: you wouldn’t. These types of artifacts were rare, extremely powerful, and could make someone practically omnipotent; if anyone had ever been crazy enough to want to give all that up by destroying such an artifact, the effects of that action had not been discussed on the internet.

Of course Heero couldn’t be certain that Trowa’s candlestick had fallen into these most powerful categories, but even bumping his search terms down a notch didn’t give him any good results. People just didn’t destroy these higher-level items — which made sense for anyone lacking the trauma associated with one that Trowa had. On the chance that Trowa’s artifact had actually been more powerful than the generally acknowledged levels, Heero looked into that too… but, while he did find a few references to the rumored existence of uniquely powerful artifacts considerably stronger than even the strongest within the accepted scales, this phrase ‘uniquely powerful’ didn’t seem to be universal enough among magicians to turn up any decent information.

Changing his tactics, he searched for ‘artifact magic condition changed attitude angry insulting,’ and this, finally, appeared to yield some real results. Interestingly, these results only started after Google had given him almost nothing for his entire string of terms and suggested instead the removal of ‘artifact’ from the lineup for a better response. That seemed a fairly crucial word under the circumstances, but Heero’s attention was caught by the first suggestion beneath the amended query.

Duo’s thoughts had evolved from wondering what Trowa and Quatre were doing today to wondering about certain details of their sex life. Though Heero considered this not a terribly unusual train of thought for a man about his friends, it was extremely distracting — not least because Heero happened to know the answer (Quatre was sometimes disturbingly open with him on such topics), and wondered how Duo would react if he just casually provided it out of the blue like a pornographic Sherlock Holmes.

Instead he said, “Hey, listen to this,” and was satisfied with the attention Duo gave him. “Red shades are the angry kind. You’ll know when someone is haunted by a red shade because it seems like they’ve changed overnight from a nice person into a total jerk. Symptoms are different for everyone, since everyone is different when they’re mad, but they often include a bad mood that seems to last forever without getting better, getting angry about nothing, taking out their anger on little things (like kicking the furniture), saying rude or insulting things to people, and just generally being more violent than usual.

“God, shades?” Duo demanded in despair. He’d sat up from where he’d previously been lying on his back staring at the ceiling. “None of us is necrovisual! If Quatre’s haunted, I don’t know what we’ll do about it.”

Heero pointed out, “If Quatre’s haunted, at least that’s something people know about.”

“But it doesn’t quite fit,” protested Duo. “I’ve never heard of somebody who was haunted having that kind of aura Quatre did.”

Continuing to look the page over, Heero shook his head. “No,” he agreed slowly, “it says here that he should have an aura of shade energy if this is what’s happening to him. Though… I’m not sure what… No, here it is: shade energy is emotion combined with death energy. And you said Quatre’s aura felt like pure magic.”

Duo nodded, frowning.

“So this probably isn’t it.” Heero was reluctant to move on from the site, however, and continue his pursuit of Quatre’s symptoms elsewhere; the description of a red shade victim seemed so fitting for Quatre’s current state. So he skimmed down to glance over the other sections of the page, just in case.

Humans can release huge amounts of emotion when they die, but even if the shade is enormous and even if the victim has completely taken it all in, they have to use it up eventually. Everything they do that expresses the shade emotion will let off some of the energy, so eventually it will disappear. But if there’s a lot of it, it can have major negative affects on their life before they manage to get rid of it, so if you don’t want to wait, you may want to consider an exorcism.

Here Heero followed a link leading to a page about exorcism methods. Apparently shade energy could be deliberately absorbed by someone else (who then had to deal with the excess emotion themselves), defeated with willpower channeled through a physical weapon, or ritually banished through some process whose description made it sound so complicated and difficult that Heero didn’t read it all the way through. None of this helped, since these were all things necrovisual people did; as Duo had mentioned, that wasn’t any of Quatre’s friends.

Just the word ‘necrovisual,’ however, was sparking a memory in Heero that, what with the distracting noise of Duo’s thoughts in the way, he couldn’t quite grasp. “Where do I remember hearing someone talk about being necrovisual?”

“Um…” Duo thought for a moment, causing Heero to get a mental visual half an instant before the words, “Dorothy. In the work parking lot.”

“Yeah, that was it. What was it she said she did?”

“I think… didn’t she say something about an exorcist? I think she said she’s only a little necrovisual.”

“But she’s probably enough to look at Quatre and tell us whether he’s haunted.” When Duo enthusiastically agreed, Heero finished with a sigh, “Too bad she’s on vacation this whole coming week.”

“Where?” asked the disappointed Duo.

“She’s doing a caving tour. I think she said she’s starting with something near San Francisco, but she’s going to be all over the place.” Heero turned back to the computer. “Anyway, this site says that for someone who’s haunted there are two options: leave them alone and let them work off the shade energy by themselves, or have the shade exorcised.”

“So it’s good information to have, anyway. If he is haunted, he’ll get better on his own eventually no matter what we do. We can keep trying to figure out what’s wrong with him, but keep our fingers crossed that it really is just a shade that’ll go away after a while.”

“And if it hasn’t gone away and we haven’t found the real answer by the time Dorothy’s back in town, she may have some insight.”

Duo nodded emphatically. Though nothing had really changed, he was clearly relieved at having a slightly better handle on the situation — even if it might be based on totally misplaced expectations. Heero couldn’t say he felt the same — or at least not to quite the same degree — but even with just vague impressions, Duo’s relief was like a little sunlamp whose warmth he could bask in on a small scale.

Therefore it was in a slightly better frame of mind that he turned back to the computer again and continued his research, looking for another possible answer even as he held the first he’d found in a sort of reserve.

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