As it turned out, Heero could not hear Duo’s thoughts from all the way down the hall. But he knew the very moment Duo appeared on the sales floor at around 12:30, not only because of the growing psychic perception of Duo’s presence, but from the chaotic sounds that sprang up immediately upon Duo’s entrance.

It was somewhat amusing to note that the people flocking to meet Heero’s boyfriend were the same that had been first in line to stare at Heero’s doll. Those that hadn’t met Duo yet were sure to notice now, as others had one at a time throughout the summer, how much the one resembled the other. In preparation for this, Heero had forced himself to come up with a cover story of sorts at last… but since he hadn’t been inclined to provide any explanation for Duo’s presence on his desk in April, he wasn’t sure how likely he was to feel like explaining the similarity to this newly arrived human in August.

Duo’s progress toward Heero’s cubicle had ground to a halt not far from his destination as he’d picked up followers like a magnet gathering spilled pins. This allowed Heero, thankfully, to listen to the conversation without having to take part in it as he wrapped up what he was working on.

Hearing Duo flirt with half the ladies on the sales floor was not as unsettling as the earlier flirtation with Wufei had been, but Heero had a feeling he needed to accustom himself to observing flirtation from Duo directed at anyone and everyone. At the moment, Duo appeared to have set aside his trauma relating to Hilde’s breasts and busied himself complimenting (of all things) her hair, after which he managed to find some excuse to estimate Carol’s age a good decade lower than it really was. Stephanie received an exaggerated start and the immediate explanation that Duo had been mightily struck with the brilliant coordination of her outfit.

Heero, who’d stood from his chair and was now watching the proceedings over the wall of his cubicle, rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help smiling a little too. The gossipy nature of the sales crowd arose from their being such sociable people, which, in turn, made them better at sales, and he couldn’t really blame them for their interest (though he might have blamed them a bit more if he’d been in the middle of the group rather than observing from the edge). They had a number of questions and comments for Duo, and a lot to say about the nature of this job, and the jovial, disorganized conversation got louder and louder as minutes passed.

But not as loud as the sudden demand from one of the doors, “What the hell is going on in here?”

Heero had so rarely heard that voice raised — particularly in anger — that he didn’t even immediately recognize it. The room went wordless in a quick wave that spread from the doors, which allowed him to hear the next few statements clearly despite their being quieter.

“I hope everyone in here who’s abusing my time clock remembers that performance reviews are coming up.” Quatre was visible now, having quickly penetrated the suddenly uneasy crowd and approached Duo with a scowl. “And you shouldn’t even be in here until you’re in partner training.”

Heero could detect in his boyfriend simultaneous annoyance in response to Quatre’s bellicose tone, fear that he might be in trouble, and pitying concern at this sign of continued irrational anger, but Duo’s struggle not to reply at all lest he say the wrong thing was short-lived. For Quatre turned abruptly from him toward Heero’s cubicle, over whose wall he locked eyes with his best friend even as he snapped out his name.

In addition to startlement at being so suddenly the object of Quatre’s wrath, Heero was conscious of some annoyance at the tone, a little fear that he might be in trouble, and plenty of pitying concern — and the knowledge that he and Duo felt the same added an incongruous note of pleased and amused fascination to his emotional mix. He was glad Quatre couldn’t read his mind.

What Quatre could do was bad enough. “It’s only Monday, and things are already falling apart in here. You’re acting Sales Manager all week; you’re going to have to pull your head out of the sand and take charge for once. Don’t forget your performance review is coming up too.”

He had believed himself adequately braced for Quatre’s behavior, but realized at this moment that he’d only thought so because nothing Quatre had said thus far had stung him. Watching a friend and even a lover hurt by this strange condition certainly hadn’t been pleasant, and had done something to prepare him, but until his best friend of ten years had actually directed a cutting remark specifically at him, he hadn’t been capable of being truly ready. But now he’d been inaugurated into the club of Quatre’s victims, and didn’t know how to respond.

It made no difference; Quatre had already given a frustrated huffing sigh and turned away. “Don’t let me find this kind of circus in here again,” he commanded as he stalked out of the room.

Stunned silence, just such as had hung in Heero’s apartment after Quatre’s departure thence yesterday morning, filled his wake, and nobody moved for several seconds. Even those that hadn’t been part of the chattering crowd around Duo had risen from their desks when Quatre had entered, and they too now stood staring. Many eyebrows were high and many jaws were low. Even Wufei, not the most socially perceptive of all the sales staff, looked surprised. In fact it was he that broke the silence:

“Something cataclysmic appears to have happened to our Regional Manager.”

Everyone started talking at once, and many of them were throwing pensive glances at Duo. Astonishment, confusion, unhappiness, even resentment were voiced in low tones, but though Heero thought everyone was wondering and many starting to speculate, he couldn’t clearly hear any of their theories. Eventually, he knew, they would ask him. And he, still recovering from the smart of Quatre’s words, hadn’t a clue what he would say when they did. That was the explanation he should really have come up with, not some silliness about why his boyfriend so resembled the doll he’d once had on his desk.

He threw a pensive glance of his own around the room, and in so doing happened to catch Catharine Barton’s eye. She gave him a small but deliberate smile, in which Heero found a very unexpected sympathetic understanding. What she knew about the current situation, and how she knew it, he could not guess, but it was clear she was better-informed than the rest of sales. And given that she was one of the least gossipy people on the team, she probably wouldn’t have demanded answers of him in any case, which he appreciated even in hypothesis. He found himself nodding slightly in thanks for her sympathy. Then he shook himself, turned back to his computer, and logged off for lunch.

Since it was still a little early for this activity, nobody followed him and Duo off the floor when they left, but the volume of murmuring increased behind them with every step they took toward the hallway. Without being entirely sure why, Heero had a sudden, overwhelming feeling that he was guilty of something and escaping blame by leaving the sales floor.

“He’s started exaggerating now,” Duo remarked as they made their way toward the breakroom. “You don’t have a problem taking charge.”

“We were about to go on lunch.” Heero knew he didn’t have to defend himself to his boyfriend — Duo was even speaking up for him, which Heero greatly appreciated — but he couldn’t help offering this explanation of his behavior. “I didn’t see any problem with everyone wasting a couple of minutes to get it out of their system.” The truth was that, even if Quatre had been exaggerating, Heero really wasn’t terribly fond of being in charge of the entire sales team. For this reason he was Sales Coordinator rather than Sales Manager, dealing with people’s work more than he dealt with people themselves. But it wasn’t that he couldn’t take charge, or didn’t when he needed to, just that he didn’t like it. Or so he’d always believed.

Duo recognized Heero’s discomfort and, since the breakroom was entirely empty, did not scruple to say loudly, “Well, I think you’re just fine.”

As he made his way toward the fridges, Heero smiled faintly. “Yes, but you’re biased.”

“Quatre should be too,” Duo grumbled. But he was reflecting unhappily on a certain bias-defying objectivity regarding work matters that he’d specifically recognized in Quatre even when Quatre wasn’t magically angry at everything. He was also pouting a bit because he’d been looking forward to sharing with Heero his thoughts on the training thus far and his happiness at being here, and now Quatre had spoiled that.

Heero fully intended to indulge Duo in this desire — indeed, he was passionately looking forward to Duo’s opinion of the sexual harassment video in particular — but there was one more point about Quatre he wanted to raise first. He glanced around to check once again that they were alone as he brought their lunches to the table Duo had chosen. In a low tone as he sat down he said, “Those sites that talked about destroying artifacts said the energy that gets released can damage things around you, including yourself. But if this energy Quatre’s giving off is pure magic from the artifact, why isn’t it affecting anything around him?”

“Yeah, you’re right. It’s like he’s processing it… converting it into a different form or something.” Duo stared thoughtfully at the sandwich he was pulling from a Ziploc. He began turning it over and over, trying to decide which piece of bread he liked better on top. “What happens to shade energy when people get possessed by it? They release it with their emotions or whatever, but what does the actual energy do at that point?”

Since their mutual lack of knowledge meant this was about as far as they could take this topic right now, and since he knew he was going to have to share Duo in about fifteen minutes when this room started to fill, Heero just shook his head. “That’s something to look up later, I guess.”

Duo nodded.

“Now,” Heero added as he extracted his own sandwich from its plastic, “tell me what you’ve been doing all morning.”

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