After the whirlwind Saturday and Sunday helping Trowa, Heero had yet been a little surprised to encounter Monday so soon — surprised, but not unhappy. Though nothing he’d wanted to get done over the weekend had gotten done, and though an unpleasant confrontation between Quatre and Trowa such as he’d anticipated had taken place, at least today was the day of Dorothy’s return to work so she could be consulted. Heero recognized that he might be hanging too much hope on his co-worker’s completely unknown level of expertise, but he couldn’t help it. After Saturday, he had to cling to whatever hope was available.

He’d tried to read Quatre’s mind — tried harder than he yet had to get at someone’s thoughts deliberately — but it hadn’t worked. This frustrated him endlessly. Hadn’t the beginning of this problem, specifically Quatre’s sudden distress, marked the awakening of Heero’s communicative abilities? Why couldn’t he get into Quatre’s head if he was already connected to him strongly enough to have had that warning dream?

Despite his inability to read Quatre’s thoughts, however, he’d still known Quatre for a decade; he didn’t need magic to get some clue about what his friend was feeling and thinking during this crisis. And what he’d detected by more natural means during that little argument with Trowa had been poignantly disturbing. Quatre’s demeanor had been one Heero had rarely seen in him, but thought he recognized: it was the look and sound of a man that valued control over many things losing it irrevocably.

Quatre couldn’t control his anger, could barely control his reactions to that anger, was losing control even of the coping mechanisms he’d been attempting thus far, and absolutely must break down eventually. And one of the very last sights in the world Heero wanted to see was Quatre breaking down. Therefore he looked forward to arriving at work so much that he wasn’t even bothering to point out how often Duo, seemingly every bit as eager as Heero, was tailgating on the way there.

Dorothy’s style of dress was the type of which people said, ‘So sharp you’ll cut yourself,’ so she was easy to spot even from across the parking lot. They didn’t catch up with her until the second floor inside, though, and by that time Duo was so impatient that he actually shouted.

She paused and turned back, and as she saw them she smiled in that critical manner that was, in her, not infrequently a sign of friendliness. “Oh, yes,” she said, as if just remembering, “you did start while I was gone, didn’t you?”

Duo grinned as he came up to her. “Yep! How was your vacation?”

“Right now,” Heero put in pointedly and quickly, to ensure no conversation on casual topics got started, “I need you to come with me.”

“All right. Where?”

Heero turned with a restrained but emphatic gesture. “Upstairs.”

“OK.” She sounded curious and amused, but the point was that she followed.

Heero might have explained as they walked, but rather hoped that a single glance at Quatre and the energy rising from him would tell Dorothy everything she needed to know. Yes, he was definitely putting too much faith in her abilities. But at least now he didn’t have long to wait.

They caught Quatre in a hallway. If Heero was any judge (and he should be), Quatre was not, as they were, just arriving, but had been here for a while and briefly stepped out of his office for some reason or other. It was a stroke of luck in any case, since Heero, assuming ‘I’m here to make Dorothy look at you’ would not have gone over very well with an angry Quatre, didn’t know what other excuse he would have invented to enter Quatre’s office.

Dorothy pushed past Heero and Duo the very moment she saw Quatre, stepping forward smartly with an expression of sudden interest. Quatre came to a stop as she approached him, a confused scowl growing on his lips and between his eyebrows. In an almost predatory fashion, Dorothy began to circle her Regional Manager, a hand moving to her incredulously fascinated face as she looked him up and down as if he were an art exhibit or perhaps a car wreck.

“Dorothy,” said Quatre in a voice half stern and half petulant, “I’m completely gay.” This was something he might have said as a perfectly good-natured joke under normal circumstances, but from his current tone it was very clear that he wasn’t messing around.

It certainly made no difference to Dorothy. “Yes.” She dragged out the word sluggishly as if not entirely aware she said it. She was just finishing her second slow circle of Quatre.

The latter gave his watch a quick, brow-lowered glance, then transferred that look to Heero, who still stood a few paces down the hall trying to remain invisible. “Can we maybe get to work?”

“Oh, yes,” said Dorothy, in the same absent tone as before. She came to a gradual halt, took one step back, gave Quatre a last head-to-toe scan, and nodded thoughtfully. Finally she turned away and moved to rejoin Heero and Duo. Quatre sighed in frustration and turned abruptly toward his own office.

“What on Earth happened to him?” Dorothy demanded as they all began walking away toward the elevator again. She sounded far more impressed than concerned. “That is a serious concentration of energy!”

“We’re not completely sure,” Heero replied.

At the same moment — because having turned a corner away from Quatre had made them all feel freer to discuss this — Duo said, “What kind of energy?”

“It’s red shade energy,” Dorothy replied with the hint of a puzzled look, “but something’s a little unusual about it. And there’s a lot of it; I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone possessed that hard.”

“So waiting for it to work itself off isn’t likely to help,” said Heero.

Dorothy laughed somewhat derisively as she pushed the elevator call button. “Is that what you’ve been doing? Good god. How long has he been like this?”

“Ten days.”

“What’s going on with the energy?” Duo put in. “We’ve been wondering about that, since if it’s just red shade energy, at least I shouldn’t be able to see it.”

“I have no idea! I’d have to have a much longer look, but I’m going to guess he’s not in any mood for people to poke around him.”

Duo laughed bitterly, covering a similar but quieter sound from Heero.

“You need to get an exorcist in here as soon as possible.” Dorothy placed a hand on a pinstriped pocket where her phone presumably lived. “I’ll give you a number.”

“Thank you,” Heero murmured. Even though Dorothy had actually told them very little, he still felt sincerely grateful and that his hopes had not been at all disappointed — maybe in part because it relieved him to have someone else in the know. The theories about Quatre’s condition in the minds of the non-magical majority were unsettling, whether they involved a messy breakup with Heero or not, and Heero knew of no one besides Duo, himself, and Dorothy at this office that had magical abilities and would understand the truth. Admittedly he was not even a little bit sure of this, and could be very wrong; it was an assumption based on the building-wide reactions to both the doll on Heero’s desk earlier this year and Quatre’s condition now, as well as on what he’d read in people’s heads so far.

It was this thought that made him notice, all of a sudden, that he wasn’t picking anything up from Dorothy, and that made him wonder briefly whether the other people at the office whose thoughts he didn’t pick up — the other quiet ones — might not also all be quietly magical. It was interesting to realize that, though he’d joined the ranks of the supernaturally talented, he still took it for granted that everyone he met had no such skill. Nonmagicalnormativity, perhaps? What percentage of the population actually did have magical ability? He would have to discuss this with Duo at some point.

When they reached the spot where the latter needed to break off to head for his training room, Heero could feel the extreme disinclination to do so in his head. “I’ll call right away,” Heero assured him, “and tell you about it at lunch. Oh,” he added, his voice sinking to a mutter as he remarked mostly to himself, “and we don’t have to eat in the breakroom.”

“OK,” said Duo reluctantly. He added silently a wish of good will and optimism about the plan, then turned and walked away.

Upon the entrance of Heero and Dorothy onto the sales floor, half the room stood up. As their overwhelming wave of friendly curiosity and welcome mixed with a manic desire to acquaint Dorothy with everything that had happened recently, Heero sighed. “They can’t decide whether to ask about your vacation or tell you all about last week first,” he murmured.

Dorothy shot him a sidelong curious look. “I could have guessed that, but somehow I get the feeling you didn’t. Hello, Hilde.” She chuckled as Hilde terminated an unnecessarily fast and energetic approach with a big hug. “Heero, why is Hilde so happy to see me? What have you done to my sales team?”

Heero, who was too impatient to get the phone number, just shook his head and moved on toward his own desk.

“Have you heard about Quatre, though?” Hilde demanded. “You missed the craziest week!”

“Hmm, you don’t know about my experience in Lake Shasta Cavern,” Dorothy said with mysterious facetiousness. She pushed off Hilde and followed Heero, lifting a hand to deflect queries from three other co-workers about how her time away had gone. Once she’d copied out a name and number from her phone onto a Post-It at Heero’s desk, however, she turned back to face the adoring masses, answer all their interested questions, and listen without any surprise whatsoever to their descriptions of Quatre’s behavior lately. Heero had to admit that he wasn’t entirely disinterested, himself, in her unusual vacation, and thought she could definitely do with the details of Quatre’s symptoms, but all attention he was paying to the scene dropped right off as he looked at the information in front of him.

It took no longer than a moment to decide to make the call outside this space where the thoughts of over a dozen people were swirling uncontrollably around him. So he fetched his cell phone, pulled the top Post-It from the pad, and walked swiftly from the room.

He stopped first at the water cooler across the hall, but soon moved on; he didn’t like having the open doors so close by, wanting a more complete barrier between himself and the noisy minds. When he felt relatively comfortable in a corner near the elevators, he dialed the number. It was 8:00 in the morning, and what hours exorcists kept he had no idea, but he didn’t much care.

And if he had cared, it would have been unnecessary: the voice that answered after a ring and a half didn’t sound newly awakened, only businesslike and perhaps a bit harsh. It had an accent to match the name Dorothy had written down, which was no surprise to the bilingual Heero.

“This is Hajime.”

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