Heero was frustrated. Not infrequently lately had this been the case, but this evening’s combination of factors was novel. He honestly hadn’t thought that, even after all the effort it had taken to get his friend to agree to see an exorcist and then agree to make a second appointment, Quatre wouldn’t keep that appointment. Quatre excelled at keeping appointments, and was typically meticulous about polite and early notice if he needed to cancel. Disregarding a scheduled event and failing to notify the other people involved showed that he’d really gotten bad. He must be extremely unhappy, and of course this all meant he needed the service he was currently denying more than ever. If only Heero could get hold of him!
Duo was still eagerly talking football with the punk exorcist. Because Heero largely ignored football, Duo had been mostly on his own in the pursuit of it as the season got started, and now was very pleased at the coincidence of this person he was already spending the evening with being a fellow fan — and even a fan of the correct team. When or why Duo, who’d lived in nearly every state in the country, had picked up the (by all accounts rather pathetic) Oakland Raiders to support, Heero didn’t know, but he did know how annoyed Duo got (at least facetiously) seeing all the San Francisco fans around here.
Trowa and Hajime had struck up a discussion about necrovisual magic. Heero would have listened had their topic been more closely related to Quatre’s condition, but in fact Hajime was describing different colors of shades and how they were dealt with, while Trowa paid close attention and asked the occasional question. Presumably he was using the topic to distract himself, and more power to him… Heero, however, not a nerd about all things magical, could not be distracted in the same manner from his worry about his best friend.
They’d been a few among many coming to the restaurant at just before 6:00 on a Friday evening, so the room around them was aurally noisy as well as swirling with thought. No reason existed for a single person in here besides their party to care about Quatre Winner and whether he was angry or sad or losing control, and whether the appointment he hadn’t shown up for could have fixed all of that; and reasons were equally scarce for Heero to care about anyone’s hopes to get laid tonight after this date or the endless indecision two tables away about what to order or the dull frustration moving through the room in criss-crossing paths in the form of the waitstaff.
Unfortunately, there was also no way for him to escape these thoughts he didn’t care about and that didn’t care about him or his concerns. As normal as it all seemed, he was beginning to find it all more than a little idiotic as well — frustratingly mundane, irrelevant, and unavoidable.
Meanwhile, at his own table,
Duo continued to chat with Sano as if they’d been friends for ages, and that, at least, was interesting (and perhaps just a tiny bit jealousy-inducing) to observe. Duo’s ability to engage people seemed to border on magic in itself, and the two would undoubtedly exchange phone numbers (technically Duo was still giving out Heero’s number at this point) before they parted this evening.
Duo was developing some serious curiosity about the two exorcists — specifically, apparently based on the way Sano referred to Hajime in conversation, about their relationship. In Duo’s opinion, Sano’s talk could lead anyone to believe the two were romantic, but the same impression did not come from Hajime. Heero shared none of this curiosity, but would still like to satisfy Duo on the point, so he concentrated on picking up anything he could from either of the two men.
This, however, was a mostly useless endeavor. Hajime projected nothing at all — undoubtedly too practiced at that sort of thing — and as for Sano… Heero didn’t quite know how to describe it, but it felt as if Sano had a noisy mind that would normally burst out (just like Duo’s and many of the people’s in this room), but was deliberately blocking somehow. It only went to reiterate how much Heero had to learn.
You’re very new at this, aren’t you? This unexpected mental remark didn’t cause even a slight start; it felt too natural, and too clearly came from someone close by. In fact it was more obviously Hajime even than if he’d been speaking aloud, as his psychic voice carried a stronger sense of him than his physical one. Heero glanced at the man, and found him still talking to Trowa about ghosts and things.
Heero nodded without a word in response to the comment, not entirely sure how to reply in kind.
Just give it a try, Hajime urged, sounding a little impatient.
The reason for this impatience became evident when Heero obeyed the injunction, as it proved to be incredibly easy. The thought, All right, I’m trying, went out effortlessly; it was even easier than verbal speech.
When did your communication powers wake up?
Two weeks ago, Heero replied. Or at least that’s when I started noticing things.
And you’re reading everyone around you already?
I pushed for that, Heero admitted. I wouldn’t have if I’d realized how distracting it would be.
Why? Hajime sounded amused.
Duo had a question I was trying to find the answer to. Heero wondered whether the smoothness of this conversation with a near-complete stranger was due to the aforementioned ease of the mental communication technique, or the fact that the aforementioned near-complete stranger seemed to know exactly what Heero was going through. In any case, Heero was far less reluctant to answer this man’s questions than he would have expected.
Is that a habit of yours? Perhaps Hajime had noticed Heero’s response to Duo’s current curiosity just a minute ago. Given that that curiosity had to do with Hajime’s personal life, this idea was a little embarrassing, and Heero tried to change the subject:
How are you having two conversations at once?
Practice, Hajime replied. He still sounded amused, and again Heero wondered how much of his thoughts the exorcist — who was clearly a communicator in addition to that — was picking up. After a moment, though, Hajime added somewhat grudgingly, If you pay attention to my other conversation, you’ll notice I’ve slowed down. Not many people are good enough to keep up two perfect conversations at once.
Heero was more than a little interested, and deliberately came up with something else to ask so as to observe Hajime’s multi-tasking abilities. If you are one, maybe you know if there’s a way for a communicator to help someone else with their nightmares?
Nightmares like someone might have after an 87-year curse?
Trying not to feel startled, Heero attempted to remember what had been said in Hajime’s presence — and what thoughts he’d been able to pick up during that time — that might have revealed this.
It was on Tuesday, Hajime supplied. That Duo of yours has a completely unguarded head.
Yes, I know. The faint regret at the complications this fact had already caused in Heero’s relationship with Duo must have sounded in his mental agreement, for Hajime’s next statement had that same touch of amusement as before:
Even people with no communicative talent can be trained to keep from projecting. There’s a website that offers a lot of tips about various communication techniques; it’s not nearly as useful a resource as working with another communicator, and you’ll have to search for the answer to your nightmare question yourself, but it might still be useful. I’ll text you the address.
A wordless feeling of professional condescension — in the friendliest sense; it was a sort of ‘you’re welcome’ — came in reply.
Heero had partially observed Hajime’s other conversation during all of this, and noted that he had indeed slowed down. Though Trowa had probably noticed his companion paying attention to more than just him — Trowa probably knew better than Heero did what Hajime’s magical talents were — he hadn’t given any indication of being bothered by it. The whole thing was very impressive.
Heero wondered how long it would take him to master something like that. Granted, being able to carry out two conversations at once was not exactly a skill he greatly coveted, but that level of expertise was yet something he was interested in having. He also wondered, suddenly, how long it would have taken his communicative powers to awaken properly if Quatre’s emergency hadn’t prompted that to happen. He also also wondered… Why can’t I get at thoughts that aren’t on the surface? I assume I’ll be able to do that.
It comes with time and practice. The website will help.
But working with an actual communicator would help more.
Yes. If you know one, and you and he or she both have time for that.
Not caring that Hajime wasn’t looking in his direction but assuming that the feeling of his agreement would carry, Heero nodded again. Just as he’d thought, active training with a real communicator was something he would want to line up along with therapy for Duo after this Quatre business was over with. And when would this Quatre business be over with? Not tonight, it seemed.
Heero continued talking silently to Hajime off and on, ate some halibut in peach sauce he thought he must try to find a recipe to imitate at some point, watched Duo winning a new friend and Trowa appearing more and more unhappy as time passed, and worried about Quatre. When they’d been at the restaurant for nearly ninety minutes and it was two hours since when Quatre had promised to meet them, and not one of them had heard from him that evening, Heero gave up. Another look at Trowa’s face showed that he had done so long before.
“Last time he did this,” Heero tried to reassure Trowa in a low voice, “he showed up at my apartment the next day.”
“Only because it was my birthday.” Trowa, staring down into a soda cup that currently contained only ice, clearly wasn’t reassured; honestly, Heero wasn’t either, but what more could he offer?
“Call me as soon as you manage to arrange something with him,” Hajime said. “Assuming Mr. Winner will actually be there, Sano can call off work if he has to.”
“Making plans over my head again?” Sano wondered. The scowl he gave Hajime was brief, however, as he turned an expression toward Trowa that was merely serious. “I actually can call off work, though. I can’t really skip class, but I can probably be somewhere within a few hours whenever.”
Heero got the feeling that having met The Trowa Barton was what had rendered Sano amenable to risking whatever other job he had in order to be somewhere within a few hours whenever. Trowa’s celebrity was definitely good for something, then.
Trowa appeared to think so too, for he thanked the exorcists gravely. Then, as if this discussion had been about immediate practicalities rather than the uncertain future, everyone started to get up to leave the restaurant. The bill had already been split between the two communicators at the table, so all there was left for Heero to do was grab a last sip of his drink and take charge of Trowa’s boxed leftovers in addition to his own, since Trowa would undoubtedly forget his.
Out in the parking lot, the anticipated phone number exchange, along with a few parting thoughts about next year’s draft, took place between Duo and Sano before the exorcists headed off in the direction of Hajime’s car and the other three turned toward Heero’s. Before Sano was two steps away he was already saying, “So you really think I’m a natural?” And Heero realized that this topic had not been closed, only deferred until Sano and Hajime were alone.
Any little echo of Duo’s curiosity about the two that might have arisen in Heero, however, was quashed when he looked at Trowa, for the latter’s dejection seemed to have reached a sort of peak. He’d stopped walking and was glancing around the parking lot as if to check whether anyone was looking at them. “I’m going to… go take a walk,” he said in a low, helpless tone. “I’ll come back to your apartment later and try some divinations.”
“You should come back and get some sleep,” Heero said, but his admonishment probably wasn’t audible over Duo’s sound of pity as he hugged Trowa impetuously. And as soon as Duo withdrew, Trowa spoke a spell and was gone.
With a shake of head at the rueful expression on Duo’s face as he stared at the place their friend had been, Heero adjusted the Styrofoam boxes in his arm and said, “Let’s go home.”