Heero didn’t resist when Duo guided his hands to put down his sandwich and his body to stand and head away from the table full of now-somewhat-worried co-workers. In fact he barely responded at all. He moved as if sleepwalking, as if completely unaware of what was going on around him; it was like — Duo felt an uncomfortable shiver up his spine as the comparison crossed his mind — it was like controlling a life-sized doll.
That thought, at least, seemed to get Heero’s attention, for he shook his head abruptly and reeled a little as he stepped out of the breakroom. “No,” he whispered. “No, I’m sorry. I’m not…” But he was apparently too deep in thought even to complete his sentence.
In the empty hallway, Duo took him by both shoulders and searched for some trace of here and now in his eyes. “OK, Heero, I’m about ready to start freaking out.”
Again Heero shook his head, and again the motion was jerky, like that of someone trying to keep himself awake. “It’s… quieter out here,” he replied in a tone similar to Duo’s mutter.
“Yes,” Duo agreed interrogatively.
“Don’t freak out. I’m OK. I’m just… hearing everyone’s… thoughts.”
“Oh!” Duo let out a brief, breathless laugh of relief. “Oh, that’s way better than what I was thinking.” Well, technically, he hadn’t had any idea what might be wrong, but this was still way better. Even so… “Are you really OK? Do you need to go home?”
“Yeah, I’m… actually… fine…” For a third time Heero shook his head, but obviously the physical motion did no good diminishing the mental engrossment; his voice was still extremely distant. “This is…” He gave Duo a smile that looked almost more baffled than anything else. “This is kinda… fun…”
“Is it?” Once more Duo laughed. “I mean, I guess I could see that, but it sounds like more of a huge pain in the butt to me.”
“Why is it… quieter…” Heero whispered. It sounded like he was talking to himself.
Duo took a stab at both the full meaning of Heero’s unfinished question and the answer to it. “How you think of things makes a big difference in magic. If you see the wall as a wall, it’s going to act like a wall even if it doesn’t technically have to. You’ll probably have to specifically try if you want to hear people through walls.”
Heero stared at him — though it felt more like he was staring through him — and seemed to take a very long time to process the information. And he couldn’t be blamed for that, since he was probably processing a lot of information in there at the moment. By himself in there but never alone again, trying to deal with a crowd he couldn’t escape.
And all of a sudden Duo was unhappy about this, to a degree he would not have expected. Heero had helped him out of a magical dilemma, and now here Duo was completely unable to return that help when Heero needed support. Not only that, but the curse-breaking month had established a standard of closeness between them that, even if they no longer kept within five feet of each other twenty-four hours a day, had diminished very little during the subsequent months — and yet here was something they could not share, no matter how physically close they were. Heero was shouldering a burden Duo could not assist him in carrying, and simultaneously enjoying some kind of entertainment in which Duo could not partake.
Heero took a deep breath. “It’s like… hearing…” With a slight grimace he amended that statement. “No, it’s not. I keep thinking it is… and then telling myself it’s not… but I guess that’s… the best way to describe it. Like hearing everyone talking at once from everywhere.” His sentences grew more coherent as he concentrated on delivering them. “And since they’re all talking out loud at the same time, they’re all saying two things at the same time. But the thoughts are a lot quicker than what they say out loud. It was extremely overwhelming at first, but it’s a little better out here. I was starting to make some sense of things in there, but I think it’s easier out here. It’ll make it easier to deal with everyone at once again afterwhile.”
With a jolt Duo realized what Heero was doing: he had recognized Duo’s feelings about this situation, and he was trying to share. He was trying to describe what this was like for him so Duo would be able to understand and perhaps offer the support he longed to give. Right in the middle of whatever staggeringly disruptive chaos he was dealing with in his poor head without any prior training, Heero was thinking of Duo and trying to keep him happy. If Duo let him, he would undoubtedly get around to explaining what was fun about this process as well, so Duo could share that too.
Duo flung his arms around Heero and squeezed, knocking him backward into the wall and, as it was more convenient, keeping him there. “I still don’t know what I did to deserve you,” he declared. “Don’t even worry about me. Don’t worry about anything but whatever you have to do to figure out how to deal with this, OK? I’m absolutely fine. I’m better than fine. You are the nicest guy in the world.” He meant it, too. Perhaps he couldn’t help the feelings that had flared up a moment ago, and perhaps they hadn’t entirely died down, but they were overshadowed by his refreshed awareness of what a wonderful person Heero was.
Though he still looked mightily distracted, Heero also appeared somewhat relieved. He smiled faintly and, to Duo’s great surprise, brought that faint smile up for a brief kiss. Naturally that would be the moment when someone exited the breakroom and hastened past them with a smothered giggle, forcing Heero to withdraw with a pink face at whatever that someone had been thinking about them… but still it had been a very pleasant moment.
“Can you stay out here with me?” Heero asked. “I’m so distracted.”
“No kidding,” Duo grinned. He didn’t know whether Heero had made the request because he really felt the need of Duo’s presence or because he was inventing a way for Duo to assist, and he didn’t care. “Of course I’ll stay here and guard you. Just let me know if there’s anything else I can do.” And, releasing his boyfriend somewhat reluctantly, he shifted into a position that would embarrass Heero less when people walked by — still near, but not in quite so blatantly unprofessional an attitude.
Eventually only a few minutes remained to them for lunch, and most of those minutes must be spent cleaning up what they’d left behind in the breakroom and providing the co-workers there an explanation of some sort for why they’d departed so abruptly and why Heero was undoubtedly going to seem so distracted for the rest of the day. Assuming Heero was up to the rest of the day.
When Duo’s thoughts wandered in this direction, Heero murmured, “I should be fine. Tell them…” He made a helpless noise. “I don’t know.”
“You never have been any good at coming up with excuses around here. I’ll think of something. If you’re sure you’re OK, that is.” Even teasing couldn’t quite keep the anxiety from Duo’s voice or from his thoughts. “If you want to leave, I can drive…”
Heero shook his head. “Thanks. I really am OK.”
“Can you get back to your desk?”
Now Heero smiled at him. “I think I can, but I wouldn’t say no to you walking me there.”
Once this had been accomplished and Duo had wrenched himself from the distracted Heero’s side, he pondered hard and fast to come up with something to tell the sales team. He felt he rose to the occasion admirably with the story that, just before everyone else had entered the breakroom, Heero had received a call with some family news, not necessarily bad but very surprising, that had so engrossed him he was likely to take a while to recover. Then Duo headed back to his training, which he knew would probably be extremely difficult to concentrate on for the rest of the afternoon.
This prediction was borne out in the painfully slow approach of 5:00, but eventually Duo found himself, somehow not having exploded from impatience, free to go home for the evening. He practically ran down the hall to the sales floor, and essentially barged his way through the exiting crowd to find Heero.
The latter seemed, even at just a glance, to be coping better than he had when Duo left him earlier, and Duo breathed a sigh of relief in response to the much greater awareness of surroundings evident in the smile Heero offered. Given that Heero was standing and had already logged off his computer, he must be ready to go, but Duo waited for the greater portion of the sales team to vacate the floor before he thought about actually leaving. Heero still looked distracted, so Duo first helped him into the jacket he’d draped over his chair, then seized Heero’s briefcase in one hand and arm in the other. Then he guided him out of the room and, assuming the elevators would be the busier of the two options, toward the stairs.
In the parking lot, Heero remarked, “It’s much better out here… but can you drive?”
“Yep.” Duo could also open the passenger side door for Heero and close it behind him. He didn’t know yet what Heero found entertaining about the communication magic process, but for himself, he had to admit, the novelty of escorting Heero around like this — offering an arm, carrying his things, opening doors, rather like the old-school gentleman Duo could conceivably have become had things been different last century — was kinda fun. He might have to try it again sometime.
Heero’s silence continued for a few minutes as they headed for home, and then, finally, he sighed softly.
“All quiet now?” Duo wondered.
Heero allowed, “Quiet enough. It’ll probably never be ‘all quiet’ again, but…” He shrugged. “At least now I think I can manage telling you what I found out today.”
“That feeling you’ve been getting from half of sales — that they don’t think you’re going to last long? — it’s because they all think Quatre and I just had a messy breakup and then I brought my new boyfriend to work right under his nose.”
“What?” More intensely Duo repeated, “What? Are you serious? Do they seriously think that?”
“A lot of them, yeah.”
“But…” Duo had no idea what to say. How could people that knew Heero believe he would be such a jerk? Sure, it would explain Quatre’s behavior pretty well, and actually it was… kinda funny… maybe actually really funny… and a bit of a relief, since if that was what everyone was worried about in relation to Duo’s job security, it meant he had a lot less to worry about himself… but Heero would never…! Heero wasn’t…! OK, well, Heero wasn’t very open about his true self with most of sales… but still! His kindness wasn’t buried that deep!
The clearing of throat from the passenger seat was all Duo needed; he didn’t even have to voice his question out loud.
“Heero!” Duo made a noise equal parts adoring and remonstrative, and pulled abruptly onto the shoulder and parked the car. He turned to his boyfriend with a face that probably didn’t express his baffled mixture of gratitude and indignance nearly as well as his thoughts would. “You did it on purpose, didn’t you? You let everybody into your head and gave yourself a huge problem for half the day and for who knows how long just so you could figure out what everyone was thinking about me, didn’t you? You did this for me, didn’t you?!”
“If I’d known what it would be like, I might not have,” Heero pled. Which meant he still might have.
Reaching out and seizing Heero’s tie, Duo yanked him mercilessly across the space between the two seats and into a crushing, seatbelt-straining kiss. He didn’t have words for how he felt right now, and he wasn’t sure it was even terribly clear in his thoughts, but when he eventually released his lover he did make some attempt: “You just wait ’til I get you home, Heero Yuy.”
He remembered making a similar ‘threat’ right after Heero had first said he loved him. A sort of repetition of that was perfectly appropriate now, he believed, since, though entirely different on the surface, underneath the circumstances were practically identical.