title: Rattlesnakes
author: trixie
disclaimer: they don't belong to me. nothing belongs to me. whee!
summary: Duo and Trowa are forced to try group therapy
notes: this is based from a few lines from the song Rattlesnakes covered by Tori Amos in Strange Little Girls, originally by Neil Clark and Lloyd Cole,

// she says all she needs is therapy yeah
all you need is, love is all you need //

and somewhat influenced by a pic by baby pen, too. the one with Duo and Trowa on the couch together... yum.
pairings: Duo/Trowa, mainly. some Duo/Heero (tho it's very angsty...). Quatre/OFC (not much). erm... that covers the main ones...
continuity: this takes place 10 years after Endless Waltz.

Rattlesnakes + Part 1

The timer was ringing, but Trowa was still washing his hands. The light in the bathroom was unnecessarily bright, and it made his skin appear a little sickly. The mirror had a small crack in the bottom left hand corner, and Trowa's eyes were fixed on the crack and the way it caught the light.

His hands had been under the hot water long enough to be pinkish. There was still dirt under his nails.

He turned the water off slowly, the feel of the metal on his hot hands almost inconsequential. The tiles were white, and the grout should have been blue, but it badly needed cleaning. He didn't bother to dry his hands as he left, neither did he turn off the light. The trail of light on the gray carpet lead to the kitchen, but Trowa went the other way to go to the dark bedroom.

The window in there looked out over the side alley, and from it Trowa could see the wet road, and two people talking close together in a doorway two buildings down. He couldn't make out whether they were male, female, or one of each, so he watched them until they separated, one going inside the door and the other walking away.

He still didn't know what gender they were.

Sighing, he got up, his hands now cold, and went to the kitchen to pull the burned tv dinner out of the oven. Plopping the contents onto a plate disinterestedly, he went into the living room to watch some porn.

He sat down on the couch, watching the screen unblinkingly as he mechanically lifted the fork to his mouth again and again. He didn't taste the food, nor did he really see the screen. He had properly put himself into that fuzzy frame of mind where nothing was really happening, and he could just go blank for a while.

When the vidphone rang, he nearly stabbed himself in the cheek with the fork.

He moved like an old man, putting the plate down on the coffee table and getting up. He didn't want to talk to anyone, but he certainly didn't want to talk to either of the people who might have been calling him. If it was Quatre, he didn't want to pretend to be interested long enough to carry off the conversation, and if it was Catherine, he didn't want to have to be rude to her to make her leave him alone.

The number of the caller helpfully blinked, and Trowa sighed as he moved out of the line of the camera's eye. He never let anyone see him when he talked on the vidphone.

"Hello, Catherine."

"Trowa! It's so good to hear your voice... Can I see you?"

"No." He briefly considered elaborating, but before he could come to a conclusion, his 'sister' continued without him.

"Oh. How is it going? What did you have for dinner tonight?"

Trowa didn't even bother trying to remember what he had been eating. Instead, he tried to remember what he had told her the last time she called. "Beef Stroganoff."

"Good, good... So, how's work?"

Work was the same. Work was always the same. Why did she even bother asking? It's not like anyone was going to allow him to change. "The same."

"Did you talk to Quatre this week?"

He flinched, involuntarily, and then chastised himself for doing so. "Yesterday."

"How's he? It's been ages since I've seen him."

"Then you should call him." He didn't want to be short with her. Catherine was the closest thing he was ever going to get to a family. But, if he wasn't mean, he knew from experience, she would never get off the phone.

"I... Sorry. How was therapy?"

"I don't discuss my therapy with anyone, Catherine." It was the same thing he said to her every week when she called, but she apparently enjoyed the repartee they had developed, and never wished to deviate from the script.

"Did you go to the gym this week?"

"No."

"The circus has been really packed lately. We're on one of those newly rebuilt colonies, and they haven't had any live entertainment since they rehabitated. I guess everyone considers it part of their civic duty to support traveling entertainers, you know, to encourage more cultural events. It's amazing, really, being considered a cultural event! Let me tell you, it's a damn sight better reception than we usually get! I think I've met everyone who lives in the colony... we even went to the schools to show them some of our acts, and do some hands on demonstrations. There was this one boy, I think he might be gunning for your job with the lions..."

"I'm busy, Catherine."

"Oh." He could hear her face crumple.

He didn't want to hurt her. She was the only person who really cared about him, but... Catherine didn't know him. She couldn't. She wouldn't let herself.

"I... I don't want to keep you. I'll email you with all the circus news."

He nodded, even though he knew she couldn't see.

"We all miss you, Tro."

'But you were the one who wanted me to take this job, Cathy,' he thought. 'You were the one who thought I would be safer here, with my therapist and my privacy. You thought I needed space, and to be closer to my friends, to people who understood me. That's what you thought, so since you thought it, you decided it was right, that's what I did. I didn't want to leave the circus. I wanted to stay there. I wanted to...' He didn't bother to finish that thought. It wasn't going to take him anywhere. "Talk to you later, then."

"Bye." He saw just a flash of her as she hung up, her eyes down.

A drowning sense of nothing filled him, and for a moment, which stretched, he could do nothing but stare at the blue screen of the vidphone.

With an abrupt, almost violent gesture, he disconnected, and went back to the futon.

The movie had gotten to the part he hated the most, when the girls were pleasuring the man. He was fat, and hairy, with a slightly receding hairline and ugly, wet eyes. He turned the tv off, and put his back down on the couch, and stared at the way the lights from the street danced on the ceiling. They moved for hours, and then there were fewer and fewer of them, until there was none at all for long, long stretches.

When the pale, useless light of the predawn filtered in, he closed his eyes long enough for the light to get bright enough to annoy.

Getting up with a groan, Trowa pushed his hands throw his hair roughly. Another day.

After a too-quick shower and some yogurt for breakfast, he flipped through his personal calendar. He never had much scheduled, but he had trouble keeping one day separate from another in his head, so he needed the calendar to remind him of his few obligations.

In square letters written with a red ink pen, the word Appointment was next to 2:00pm. Trowa nearly groaned.

His therapy sessions used to be on Tuesdays, which was nice, because by the middle of the week, it was already over with, but on Monday he had gotten a call to reschedule his regular appointment for Thursdays. He had spent most of Monday night whiting out the Tuesday notations, and adding Thursday notations, and then had promptly forgotten it.

Losing any zeal he may have been able to work up for the day, he sighed and left, neglecting to put on a tie.

He also forgot to tell his supervisor that he needed to leave until 1:20, when he was getting ready to go, but it didn't matter much. His job title was Data Supervisor, but he may as well have been called Mindless Mouse Pusher for all the good he did. On the bus on the way to the doctor's office, he had forgotten to slip his Preventors tag into his pocket, so three people smiled at him, nodding as if in thanks.

He ignored them, and then forgot to put the tag away again.

He had trouble getting off the bus for his stop, with all the people getting on the bus, but he jumped just as the doors were closing, landing awkwardly on the curb.

If he had fallen, he might have torn his shirt, but no such luck.

It was a three-block walk to the doctor's office building. Trowa moved slowly, passing people whose faces he couldn't see, his whole thought process wrapped around the notion of putting one foot in front of the other. The sunlight bothered his eyes, so he kept his chin down, and his hair almost completely covered his face.

The ride up the to the fifteenth floor was unbearable. The music in the elevator had been carefully crafted to the be most annoying sound that was nearly entirely unlike the Beatles' 'Yesterday' as sound could be while still pretending to be 'Yesterday.' Trowa felt he was quite valiant in his effort to refrain from ripping the carpeting off the wall of the elevator, but it was hard.

The walk from the elevator to the office took precisely seventeen steps, if he measured his steps so that each stride covered two and a half squares of tile. The knob of the door was brass, in need of shining. It had to be turned sharply, or else it didn't catch.

All in all, everything in the last twenty-four hours had proceeded in exactly the same way that any other twenty-four hour period had proceeded, ever since he started the Preventors job and started therapy.

After he opened the door, nothing was the same.

He stood there with his hand still on the knob for a long minute. Normally, the waiting room in the doctor's office was empty. It was a small, narrow room, ornately decorated in rich, red woods and thick, green plush furniture. There wasn't even usually a receptionist, as the doctor prided himself on discretion, and appointments and payments were handled through the patient's workplace. Appointments were scheduled twenty minutes apart, so there was virtually no chance of running into anyone at the office.

He came very highly recommended by the Preventors.

So, when Trowa saw Duo Maxwell standing in the waiting room, looking at a picture on the wall, staring back at him with the same look of shock on his face, it was something of a surprise.

He stepped inside, and let the door swing shut slowly on its own.

The first actual thought that went through his head was how different Duo looked. He remembered Duo being gregarious, a bit over-confident, with an annoyingly persistent smile, and that he was modest. Quatre had told him that, even in desert, Duo always wore long pants and at least two shirts. He might roll up his sleeves, and open up the neck of his shirt, but he was always covered.

So to see Duo, looking a bit thin and pale, wearing a baseball t-shirt with black sleeves and red front and back that was possibly a child size two, and low on the hips leather pants was, again, a bit of a surprise. The thin ribbon of Duo-flesh peeking out where his pants and shirt didn't meet was almost tantalizing in a way that Trowa could feel at the base of his spine.

Since when had Duo Maxwell been attractive?

Trowa cleared his throat, but he still didn't know what to say. There had to be some mistake.

"There has to be some mistake." Duo was fidgeting, his arms folded around his waist as he tried to hide his exposed belly. "Er, but I got a call rescheduling my appointment. This is the right time, I'm sure."

Trowa shrugged, not committed enough to any idea to speak.

"There's no mistake." Dr. Clarkson smiled genially from his office door. "I'm sorry that I changed things without notice, but... Please, come in. I think you two know each other?"

Neither young man moved for a second, not knowing whether to stare at the doctor or at each other. Almost suddenly, Duo sighed, and, shaking his head, took the first step to the door. "Well, Doc, I guess you know what you're doing. Although, if you're afraid of being left alone with us, I don't think you've really improved things."

There was a suggestive tone to Duo's voice, and although Trowa couldn't see his face, he could see the way Dr. Clarkson looked away, seemingly embarrassed. Distrustfully, Trowa followed, keeping his arms folded over his chest.

"Well, well... this is good." Dr. Clarkson still didn't look up as he sat down, arranging his papers and gathering his pens so that he wouldn't have to look at the other men, who were figuring out how to share the couch without having to come in contact with one another. "I should have warned you, but I think this is good, too. You know each other, of course, I've already said that... I think that you can benefit from each other's experiences. You two aren't that different you know, and I think that you can help each other more than anything else. Well. Yes."

Trowa stared straight ahead, pretending not to notice the way that Duo seemed to be laughing with his body language. He also pretended not to notice the way that Duo stretched out on his end of the couch, flipping his long braid over his shoulder so that it lay over his chest, landing conspicuously over his crotch. He bristled at the thought of being compared to Duo Maxwell, but he sure as hell wasn't about to let on that he did, and the very notion that Duo, of all people, would be able to help him...

Trowa's brow knit, and he glared straight ahead, doing his best to distance himself from this indignity.

"Now, I know this is unorthodox," Dr. Clarkson wheedled, taking in his patient's expressions. "But just think of this as a test. Just another step in the therapeutic process. If you are uncomfortable, we can discuss this, but I really feel this is the best thing for both of you. As such, I expect your cooperation."

Duo's eyes narrowed, and Trowa was almost glad for a moment that it was Duo who was enduring this with him, as Duo would certainly speak out for the both of them.

"In other words, Doc, you don't intend to sign off to let the Preventors know that we are being good little boys and tending to our damaged psyches unless we sit still and do as you say. That could be called blackmail, you know..." Duo's voice dropped into a low, seductive register as he kept talking, dropping his chin so that he delivered his mild accusation while looking through his long bangs.

Dr. Clarkson adjusted his position in the chair uncomfortably. "Now, Duo, let's not get into any nasty details. I do think this would be for the best, so I don't think we can call this extortion. You do both work for the Preventors, and yes, you do both need my release to keep working... But we should focus on our goals, not our obstacles. The goal here is better mental health, and given your shared past... er, in the war, I think that this sort of group therapy method would be most effective. Now. Let's talk about our weeks. Trowa, how are things going?"

Trowa continued to sit and glare at the doctor. There wasn't even anything he could think of to say. He was basically stuck in this situation. He hadn't even wanted to talk to Dr. Clarkson, but because of Catherine and his job, he was forced to; and now he had to add Duo to the mix, and why was Duo even in therapy? He was never lacking in people to fawn over him...

Apparently, Trowa had taken long enough to mull the question, because Dr. Clarkson tapped his pen impatiently against his clipboard. "Trowa. Remember what we've discussed about trust. You have to let other people in."

Duo snorted, and looked disgustedly at the ceiling.

Trowa chose to ignore him. "Fine."

"E-Excuse me?" Dr. Clarkson questioned, confused.

[cont]