Many aspects of Duo’s previous human life felt like little more than a dream to him these days. Certainly during the long sleepless years, those memories had been the only type of dream he’d been capable of seeing. Of course his inability to sleep as a doll had often caused him to think about his frequent difficulties sleeping as a human, but for all the time he’d spend ruminating on this topic, he’d never been able to recall that his insomnia before the curse had arisen from any reasonable cause. He just, he’d always figured, had too much energy. He’d certainly never, until now, considered that having a lot on his mind might be part of it.
That he was a very low-stress person he’d never doubted, but it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence that, the night before he started his first job in eighty-seven years, simultaneously worried about his potential need for therapy, he’d taken hours to fall asleep and then had the devil of a time staying there. And these were not the only things on his mind; undoubtedly it was more than just his own concerns that had disturbed his rest.
Trowa had called last night to report his lack of progress throughout the time he’d spent with Quatre yesterday. Trowa didn’t use phones much, and calling Heero in particular was very like calling from two rooms away, but apparently he’d been at the end of what face-to-face interaction he could handle for the day. Of course that meant he’d talked to someone not nearly so inclined to offer copious amounts of verbal comfort as Duo would have been, but at least Heero had been able to convey his theory about red shade haunting to Trowa in his own words. Duo hadn’t needed to hear the other half of the conversation to observe that Trowa was dismissive of the idea, which had engendered some coolness; but he’d also thought Heero had taken pains not to get snippy with a friend that had clearly already had a wretched day.
That today would be significantly better Duo doubted. Even if Trowa did manage to figure out what was wrong with his boyfriend, he would still have to convince the unusually grouchy Quatre to submit to the cure — assuming Trowa, in his less powerful and relearning state, was even capable of carrying out that cure immediately or ever. If he didn’t figure out what was wrong, he would simply be waiting, along with Duo and Heero, to see whether or not Quatre could work off the anger on his own. It was nothing pleasant to look forward to.
And yet, in the face of the worrisome unknown, Duo was very little but excited at the coming day’s prospects (though how much of that excitement was purely positive he couldn’t quite calculate).
He’d become so used to largely ignoring Heero’s alarm clock that, despite still feeling draggingly tired when it went off, despite any stress-based lack of proper rest, he was immediately energized by the novelty of having to respond to the repetitive beeping and get up. As Duo rolled out of bed, disarraying the blanket (they needed a bigger bed), Heero turned onto his side and pulled the cover back up over his shoulder and head in an abrupt movement like a villain with an evil cape. Duo chuckled, yawned, and headed for the bathroom.
Heero had showered last night after many hours at the computer, and Duo with him — but not only were mutual showers far less productive (of thorough cleanliness) than the solitary kind, Duo also happened to really like showers, and felt he could use the simultaneously soothing and galvanizing influence right now. So he coiled his braid up and put a cap on it and removed what little he was wearing. He didn’t waste time, though; he was out of the water again before Heero managed to drag himself into the bathroom.
“Happy job day,” Heero said as he reached for his toothbrush.
“Thank you!” Duo replied in great satisfaction. There might be some uneasiness about today lingering in his subconscious, but in general he didn’t feel terribly concerned about starting work. That he had other sources of concern could not render him less happy to be making a new beginning as a human that could earn his own money. Therefore, though still yawning, he was very cheerful as he went into the kitchen to dig up breakfast.
During the months that had passed since the curse was broken, Duo had visited Heero at work several times and been able to introduce himself to several of Heero’s acquaintances there. Between this and all the time he’d spent at the office as a doll, he was familiar enough with the place and many of its employees… but his dearest wish had yet to be fulfilled. So his attitude about the day went from hopeful to ecstatic when, turning a corner of a second-floor hallway of the Winner Plastics Lexington office, he encountered, beside a water-cooler he’d never yet actually seen used by anyone, Wufei.
The latter was busy with his phone, but not only did Duo get the overwhelming impression that he would be more than happy with any interruption that would allow him to show off the device, Duo also did not care whether or not Wufei minded being bothered at the moment.
“Hey!” He moved enthusiastically forward. “You must be Wufei! I’ve seen you a couple of times, but I never got the chance to talk to you!”
As Wufei glanced up from (but did not put away or even lower) his phone, he looked specifically interested. “Likewise,” he said. “And your name is Duo.”
Duo wished he would follow this up with, “Do you want to know how I knew?” — mostly because he longed to hear Wufei say it, but also because he was a little curious about whose conversations Wufei had been listening in on to catch Duo’s name. Unfortunately, not wanting to be late on his first day, he didn’t have time to try to draw out all his favorite Wufei lines. So he said, “I recognized you right away because Heero’s told me so much about you, and I figure you’re the only hot Chinese guy working here.”
He thought he felt a sort of wince behind him, but wasn’t sure whether his boyfriend was bothered most by the flirtation, the implication that Heero had ever referred to Wufei as a ‘hot Chinese guy,’ or merely the suggestion that Heero talked about Wufei any more than was absolutely necessary. Duo hadn’t been able to help himself, though.
Wufei was momentarily silent, and Duo reflected uncharitably that he probably wasn’t used to people walking up and calling him hot. He was hot, though, objectively speaking, even with the huge glasses, so maybe it was less that people never pointed this fact out, and more the happy idea of his good friend Heero having been talking about him so much, that kept him briefly wordless. Whatever the case, he recovered quickly.
“First of all, thank you for the compliment.” He had such a hilarious self-important seriousness to his speech; Duo was so happy to be here. “Secondly, I’m honored to meet you at last.” And he offered a hand.
Duo took this in both of his for a warm and enthusiastic handshake. “I’m starting here today,” he said, not letting go, “so I can’t hang around, but I’m sure I’ll see you again soon.” He wanted to laugh, not only at Wufei’s slightly nonplussed expression, but simply out of joy at this interaction and the fact that he was here at all.
“Yes, I’m sure that will be the case.” Once Wufei’s hand was free, he made rather a show of setting his phone on vibrate before putting it away as he added, “Welcome aboard. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.”
As they moved on down the hallway, passing the doors onto the sales floor since Heero was escorting Duo to his training destination, Duo fully expected some comment on the fact that the plan for messing with Wufei was already getting started, or on Wufei’s pomposity in offering workplace assistance right in front of someone that was both Duo’s boyfriend and corporate superior. But what Heero actually said, in a low tone, was, “You didn’t sleep well last night, but you seem OK now.”
“Oh, did I wake you up?” Duo wondered in some concern.
“No, it was fine. I’m just glad you’re feeling all right now.”
“Well, I am tired,” admitted Duo. “But, yeah, I’m OK.” With a grin he added, “You have no idea how happy I am to be here.”
Heero smiled. “I can guess.” After a glance around, he squeezed Duo’s hand; apparently that was as far as he was willing to proceed in a hallway at work. “This is the place. When she lets you go for lunch, come find me and I’ll take lunch then too.”
Duo nodded, returned the squeeze of hand, and, releasing Heero, turned toward the door they’d stopped at.
The initial paperwork did turn out to be a little stressful, if only because it involved a lot of information any normal person (anyone that had been human most or all of his life) would know off the top of his head without having to try to remember from when a friend had gathered it for him from various sources and given it to him in a long list to memorize. However, the hiring manager, Joyce, whom Duo had met a couple of times before, was patient and good-natured and never gave Duo any strange looks, even when he had to pull out his new Social Security card (twice) in order to transcribe the number because he kept forgetting part of it.
When that process was finished, he was introduced to training manager Latasia, whose wedding ring and response in kind made her perfect to flirt with, which helped put Duo at his ease. She explained the training process, warned him frankly about how tedious it would be before he reached the stage where he was actually working with a living person, and showed him how to access the videos and modules he needed on the computer with a generic login until his information was in the system. Then she left him with a list of what to watch and what to complete.
He almost couldn’t believe he was already racking up money for this. The idea of earning wages every hour — rather than the daily, weekly, or by-task basis used by every previous job he’d held — had long dazzled him; the idea of earning wages sitting around watching absolutely hilarious pantomimes of potential workplace problems and how to deal with them was nearly incredible.
Of course the real beginning had been back in May on the balcony of the apartment he shared with Heero, and there had been numerous points of progress since then, but still he felt as if this was the first step into a new world. It was definitely an early step toward the autonomy he so deeply craved, and he was so happy with it that he actually had to bend his will toward focusing on what he was supposed to be doing and not just sitting here, possibly in tears, thinking in ecstasy about how he really was a human adult capable of contributing to society and taking care of himself.
He couldn’t wait for lunch, when he could share all of these amazing feelings with Heero.