When Heero started moving away from the painting of Trowa into and down the next aisle, Duo of course followed, and this more or less towed the two Confrérie people after them. Why they were thus migrating Duo couldn’t be sure — whether Heero had picked up from someone the direction in which they would eventually find Quatre or whether he just wanted to leave the unnerving picture of their friend — but it seemed hopeful. Duo was getting tired of this stupid conversation anyway.

It nevertheless continued for another minute or so on basically nothing, Duo still providing evasive nonsense to the best of his ability and the woman he was talking to increasingly curious and frustrated, until everyone’s attention was seized by a shriek from the entrance. Interesting rather than worrisome, the sound led into a noisy and ongoing squealing that, while not clearly comprehensible from here, certainly contained the words ‘Trowa Barton.’

The two Confrérie members in the immediate vicinity threw Duo one more look, wide-eyed, then hurried off in some agitation. Wryly Duo smiled, and wondered as he and Heero continued more leisurely the same way, “Showtime?”

Heero nodded and said quietly, “I thought we’d have a better chance from here with Trowa with us.”

The sound of excited chattering grew louder as they approached, and Duo heard nothing of Trowa’s voice from the midst of it; he wouldn’t be surprised if Trowa had not one single word to say to these fans until he’d gotten a clearer idea of what was going on here. Wouldn’t that frustrate the Confrérie members!

They stopped before the green and yellow moon again, and from there could make out some individual parts of the conversation (bombardment, more accurately) on the other side of the big canvas wall.

“…hoping you’d pass by us here when your friends…”

“…so incredibly honored to have you here in our…”

“…not too much trouble, could you possibly sign…”

“…can’t believe the real Trowa Barton is actually…”

Suddenly, the guy that had previously manned the velvet rope came sprinting out and disappeared deeper into the gallery, and the startled Heero barely had time to report that he was heading off to fetch some magical trinket he wanted Trowa to autograph before Trowa himself also appeared.

He moved silently toward Heero and Duo, followed by the still-chattering other three Confrérie members, and, as he stopped in front of his friends, reached out and took a hand of each. “No one else should be able to hear what we say as long as we’re linked by skin,” he informed them. He cocked his head as if to listen — probably feeling out the spell to make sure it had taken properly despite not being cast in the presence of two of its subjects — and seemed satisfied.

“Good thinking,” Duo commended.

Heero wasted no time. “There’s an entire faction of this group that doesn’t like you, and that guy who just ran off is likely to tell practically everyone that you’re here. These three will probably do whatever you say, though.”

“Are any of them communicators?” asked Trowa.

“Not that I can tell.”

Trowa nodded sharply and, releasing his friends’ hands, turned back to face the breathless others. They’d fallen silent while attempting (futilely, Duo hoped) to listen to the exchange between the real Trowa Barton and his friends, and now they all leaned forward in a comically simultaneous motion as the real Trowa Barton spoke to them for the first time:

“I’m here for Quatre Winner. Please take me to him.”

Two of the Confrérie members gave meaningless exclamations, possibly merely from the excitement of having been addressed directly, and the third looked uncertainly at them and then back at Trowa. They didn’t quite go into a huddle, since they all seemed loath to turn away from their idol, but they did put their heads together and speak in low tones.

“Are you sure we should–”

“Do you really want to say no to–”

“But the ritual’s still–”

“Everyone’s back there anyway, and they’ll all want to–”

Meanwhile, Heero mimicked Trowa’s earlier movement and seized both his hand and Duo’s. “Back this way there’s a door into the warehouse; stairs down at the other end lead to the offices, and Quatre’s in the farthest room.”

Having heard this, Trowa didn’t wait for the Confrérie folks to reach a consensus; he turned immediately in the direction Heero indicated. They’d barely gone four steps, however, when one of the people behind them called out, “No, I’m coming, sir; I’ll show you!”

The guy darted out in front of them and began hastening along backward (still obviously reluctant to take his eyes off Trowa) in the character of very awkward guide, while the two women hurried after. The pace of the entire party was set by Trowa’s quick, determined strides, and their course far more by Heero’s slight gestures than by the movements of the man before them. He kept running into walls and pillars, setting paintings askew without seeming to notice or care. And the entire time, he was talking:

“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to meet you, Mr. Barton, sir, but it’s been most of my life, ever since my dad told me about you when I started magic when I was six or seven. I’ve always been trying to do something like what you did in Beaumont back in the 50’s — with the railroad tracks, I mean, sir — but I could never figure out the spell, and I don’t think I’ve ever quite had enough power for something like that anyways — though I keep trying! How did you manage to make– oh, merde.” As he paused to replace the painting he’d actually knocked down this time, the others passed him.

The wall they reached that separated gallery from warehouse had, of course, no windows, and therefore looked very tall and broad in this two-storey space. This had been taken advantage of by using it to showcase the largest of the paintings, some of them perhaps fifteen feet high and all of them attention-grabbing. Duo tried not to get distracted by their interesting depictions of the same subjects as before (some of them now larger than life) as they moved toward a big pair of swinging double doors, like those leading to the back areas of grocery stores, marked Employés Seulement.

Even as Trowa reached to push one of these open, however, Heero simultaneously reached out for Trowa’s hand to stop him. He fumbled for his boyfriend’s as well, without looking at him, as he started talking urgently to Trowa, so the audio kicked in a little late for Duo: “–mostly not your fan club collecting in there. I think — yeah, one of them definitely helped burn you house.”

Duo glanced at the windowless swinging doors with a scowl. Damn that stupid guy running off to get his whatever for Trowa to autograph. They really should have stopped him… though there hadn’t exactly been time.

“Any sign of the brainwasher?” Trowa asked.

“No, but I might not get any signs of someone that good.”

Duo’s suggestion was, “I say you threaten them. Walk in there like, ‘I’m going to level this place if you don’t take me to my boyfriend right now.’ Yeah, they know you don’t have the artifact anymore, but even the ones that don’t like you much have gotta know you’re still the best.”

Trowa shook his head slightly, frowning. “I can’t be sure of that.”

“Look at them, though.” Despite the supposed situational deafness of the three Confrérie members that were somewhat pressing in on them, Duo’s tone fell almost to a whisper as he glanced around. “These people are low-level nerds! They don’t stand a chance against you — or at least they won’t think they do; they’ve practically worshipped you their whole lives!”

“He’s right,” Heero agreed. “Try the threat first, and if they don’t want to let us past to Quatre, let’s be ready to fight.” When Trowa, after very little time spent weighing this, signaled his concurrence, Heero mirrored the gesture and added, “Everything we talked about in the car.”

Again Trowa nodded, more firmly this time. The possibility that they would have to engage in a magical battle of sorts had been discussed as they drove, and that they knew, in general, what they each must do under such circumstances was reassuring even if they had no idea what kind of situation they would be facing in the warehouse beyond.

“Hey,” Duo put in, struck, “can you tell if there’s some back door we should be worried about?”

With a frown Heero went wordless for a moment. “No,” he finally said. “At least nobody’s thinking about trying to smuggle Quatre out before we can get to him, anyway.”

Trowa asked, “You said they’re in the middle of a ritual down there right now?”

“That’s what I’m getting,” Heero confirmed, with his own glance behind at the silent, eager, uneasy Confrérie members, who were undoubtedly wondering what the holdup was… unless some communicator on the other side of the wall was already transmitting everything being thought out here to much of the group.

“We’ll have to let them finish,” Trowa was saying. “Whatever they’re trying can’t be as dangerous as interrupting it could be.” He took a deep breath. “One spell, and then we’ll go in.”

As Trowa cast an augmentation of the silence he’d already placed on them to prevent their being affected by magic that sought to touch their minds or bodies directly, Duo could feel the strength behind the words. It was a good idea, but he had to wonder how much energy Trowa had used on it that he might want for other purposes in just a few minutes.

Then they all shared a quick glance of silent inquiry as to whether they were ready — agreeing that, as much as they could be, they were. Hands were released for the moment, nerves were steeled, and they turned and pushed forward through the great swinging doors.

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