“And as they’re all watching in horror, the unfortunate woman begins pounding her head against the wall, until they rush to stop her.”

Duo was sure Heero already regretted having brought leftover lasagna for lunch; it necessitated their presence in the breakroom to make use of the microwaves before they could head out to the privacy of his car. Which meant having to put up with co-workers for three minutes and twenty-five seconds at least. Duo, of course, was secretly pleased (not that it was a secret from Heero), as he cherished every moment he got to spend with a certain one of them.

“Wufei,” he said, “you have such a good memory for movie scenes. That one reminds me of an episode of that one show — what was it called? The one about the robots that were magical, and the mental breakdown the one guy had spread to the other robots like a virus, and had all these magical consequences?”

Neither the compliment, even with its admiring tone, nor the description of the episode could distract Wufei — though Duo thought he did catch a spark of interest about the robots. Wufei was like one of those beetles that doggedly resumed its precise direction of travel even after having been flicked several feet off course across the sidewalk and onto its back. Now he said, leading and unsubtle, “People are capable of such mental breakdowns, you know. Not with magical ramifications, of course, but to the extent where their normal functions are inhibited.”

This was the latest rumor about Quatre: that his nerves had snapped, preventing him from coming to work. And because this supposed breakdown might have something to do with his split with Heero (which had been upgraded to ‘traumatic’ to fit the circumstance), no one dared approach Heero or Duo about it directly. The level of gossip had intensified madly, though, and even what Duo didn’t overhear, Heero picked up on mentally and relayed to him.

And now Wufei, who thought he was clever, was trying to make himself a hero in the eyes of the sales team by winkling out the truth so he could whisper it to everyone else as soon as Heero and Duo had left the room.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Duo said, ignoring the obvious bait and offering some of his own, “I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for someone’s mental breakdown to have magical ramifications. I mean, nobody’s ever proved magic doesn’t exist, have they?”

This one came so close to derailing Wufei’s attempt at getting information about Quatre that Duo could probably guess the exact wording of his eager reply on the subject of whether or not magic existed. But with an evident effort, Wufei said instead, “That’s true, but the much more mundane results of someone’s mental breakdown would be evident much sooner.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Like the first thing that happened in the robot show was that the one robot couldn’t do his usual routine that kept the power running to his docking-station-house-thing.”

Again Wufei looked as if he might be interested in the robot show, but again he didn’t ask. Evidently seeing that his attempt had failed, he said, “Are you aware that I’m being considered as your partner trainer?”

Now Duo was the one derailed. What Wufei thought to gain by this rather irrelevant interjection he didn’t know, but he was surprised and tickled by the news. “Are you?”

Wufei seemed pleased by Duo’s enthusiasm. “That’s correct,” he said. “Of course Dorothy hasn’t made the final decision yet, and at the moment she isn’t receiving any input on the subject from a higher authority.”

Ah, so that was it: allusions to Quatre and the implication that Duo and Wufei, possibly destined to work closely together, should be ready to confide in each other. Duo didn’t care; he was just happy at the prospect of a lot more daily messing-with-Wufei time.

Heero broke into the conversation at this moment by pressing a hot Tupperware container against Duo’s arm and making him jump. After the laughter that resulted from this, a couple of related comments — one of them silent, intended only for Heero, about how good it was to be able to feel a hot Tupperware — and a brief goodbye to the disappointed Wufei, they left the breakroom and headed down the hall.

“How much time do you think he spends looking up those nerdy-sounding shows and movies you keep making up?” Heero wondered quietly once they were a safe distance away.

Because he’d already asked, Duo knew that Heero didn’t pick anything up from Wufei mentally and therefore didn’t know the answer to this question. “I like to think a lot,” he said smugly. “Convenient how I can never remember the titles, isn’t it? And isn’t it totally nice of me to give him something to entertain himself with?”

“If it distracts him even a little from trying to dig up dirt about Quatre,” Heero muttered, “I won’t complain.”

“Is Dorothy really considering him?”

“Yes.” Heero’s tone hadn’t brightened much. “I think she thinks it’ll be funny.”

“It will!” Duo laughed. “We’ll be like Pinky and the Brain!”

“I’m not even going to ask which of you you’re casting as which of them.”

Duo paused. “That’s good, because I’m not sure myself. Anyway, I feel like he won’t actually be too bad of a trainer even if he is… Wufei.”

“Wufei has the best numbers on the team,” was Heero’s grudging admission. “And if you can get over the way he is, he really is a very good partner trainer. I’m sure Dorothy’s considering him because she wants to see how much social havoc it’ll cause, but besides that it’s because she can see you’re going to be good enough to deserve the best.”

Extremely pleased at this, Duo smiled broadly. “And who else is being considered for deserves-the-best Duo?”

“That would be me.” Out of nowhere as they walked away from the elevators, Catharine fell into step beside them with a smile of her own. “I’m sorry for overhearing and butting in, but I am relevant.”

“Catharine is second place in sales performance,” Heero offered, reiterating the point that Dorothy was seeking the best possible training for Duo.

“I have to choose between Nerdfei and Trowa’s hot cousin?” Duo demanded, delighted.

Heero stifled a laugh. “Please don’t ever call him that again at the office.”

“And it probably won’t be much of a choice.” Catharine seemed to be repressing her own amusement at Duo’s nickname for their co-worker, but she often had such a playful demeanor even when discussing serious subjects that it was a little difficult to tell. “I’m supposedly working on a sales protocol project with Quatre right now. He’s barely been responding to my emails lately, our projected completion date’s been moved out twice, and now the entire thing is on hold, which is why Dorothy’s considering me for you at all… but I may not have time for partner training.”

Sobering a bit, Duo nodded his understanding.

“Listen,” she said, all playfulness dropping from her lowered voice, “I’ll completely understand if you can’t answer, and I’m sorry to ask in the first place — but do you guys know where Quatre is and when he’ll be back?”

The straightforward question, presented only once she had established a legitimate reason to want to know and an apparent concern for the subject, formed an interesting contrast to Wufei’s underhanded gossipy curiosity. Nevertheless, Duo allowed Heero the decision whether or not to answer.

Heero waited until they were out the front doors, past the prying ears of the security guard, to respond, and Duo wondered what he was reading in Catharine’s mind that caused his somewhat surprising frankness: “The last anyone’s heard from him was an email to his dad saying he was going on vacation — but not where or for how long. We think he’s hiding from his own bad mood.”

“I see,” she said, pulling car keys from her purse with a slight frown as they all started into the parking lot. “Thanks.” After a moment she added, “And how is Trowa?”

“Not fabulous,” Duo replied. Immediately he amended the statement. “I mean, Trowa’s always fabulous, of course, but he’s not exactly happy right now.” Skipping most of the detail he finished, “He’s really worried about Quatre.”

“Well, you can tell him his hot cousin says, ‘Hang in there,'” Catharine advised, a touch of playfulness having returned to her tone atop an underlying authoritativeness, “and that he can call me if he ever wants to talk. He has my number.” She’d stopped walking and turned slightly, indicating that her destination lay in a different direction from theirs.

Duo halted beside her. In response to her friendly concern and offer of support, he was inclined to give her a huge hug, but figured that, in this work setting, he’d better restrain himself. In lieu of that he said, “Yooooouuuu are invited to my party.”

“Are you having a party?”

“Eventually. Sometime. When everything’s happy again. And you are totally invited, so don’t forget!”

Seeming amused by his earnestness, she chuckled, “I won’t!” She transferred her smile to Heero, who had progressed a pace past them and turned back to witness the final exchange in silence. “You guys have a good lunch.”

“You too!” Duo said, and turned to join Heero walking toward his car as Catharine waved them away with a friendly hand.

Previous (Part 33) | Chapter Index | Next (Part 35)