author: trixie
see part 1 for notes, disclaimers, etc.

Rattlesnakes + Part 12

There was the sound of gentle clicking. There was not supposed to be the sound of gentle clicking, although Trowa was too tired and too thirsty to consider why there shouldn't be the sound of gentle clicking. It was becoming apparent, however, that opening his eyes was going to be a necessity.

His whole body ached in a way that made him want to sink into oblivion. His tongue felt glued to the roof of his mouth. His eyes felt spackled shut. Prying them open took more energy than he had, but the damned gentle clicking continued, requiring a response. He couldn't make any noise, because he was too parched, but he felt his muscles groan as he stretched. His arms were like searing stumps of ache.

He started to rethink his grand plan.

The light felt harsh and indistinct; nothing was illuminated as he managed to break the seal keeping his eyes shut. He pressed his forehead into the pillow, and tried to shift on the bed without putting his arms down or moving them. This was futile. The towel was all bunched underneath him, and the soft terry was scratching his back.

He was already sick of this day.

Gradually, he was able to center in on the source of the gentle clicking. It was only then that he was aware that he had woken up alone. Duo was sitting in the chair on the side of the bed, his attention fixed on something on the table. It was the something that was responsible for the gentle clicking.

Duo was typing on something.

Duo's hair was still down, cascading over his shoulders and down his back in luxurious waves. The tactile memory of the hair tingled on Trowa's fingers, and he decided that getting up wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Trowa weighed his options. He wanted to speak, but his throat was like a desert in a dry spell. His head was starting to throb, something he deduced was going on for a while now, but he had been too asleep to notice. There had to be a way to start the day that didn't involve horrible, horrible pain.

"Oh! You're awake!" Duo stood up, nervously standing still, his hands uselessly moving around each other as he tried to think of what to do. "You must be really thirsty, right? You didn't really eat or drink anything yesterday or anything... Here, let me get you..." He moved in quick, short strides to where the food was stored, and pulled out a drink.

Trowa tried to sit up, but without using his arms, it was a difficult task. Duo's arm was under his back before he knew that Duo was there, and he was able to lean on Duo, and sit up.

For a second, his eyes met Duo's, and he felt himself wanting to smile. Unfortunately, it was far too early to even try such a complex maneuver.

Duo sighed softly, and opened the bottle. He raised the drink to Trowa, not offering to hold it for him but at the same time, being as helpful as he could be. Carefully, Trowa reached out to take the bottle, making sure that his fingers were tightly around the circumference before attempting to pull it away from Duo's grasp. He put his cracked lips against the rim of the bottle, and it was like heaven, the cool liquid slipping down his throat.

Duo was watching him with wide, seemingly frightened eyes. Trowa transferred the bottle to his left hand, and reached out with his right, taking a lock of hair between his fingers.

He smiled at Duo easily.

Sighing, Duo closed his eyes. "Are you ok?"

"Sure." Trowa's voice was scratchy and broken, but his eyes were sparkling, and he tugged lightly on the lock of hair in his grasp to emphasize his point.

Duo nodded slowly, swallowing hard.

"What were you doing?" Trowa spoke slowly, concentrating on each word in turn. He rewarded himself with another long sip of the drink. The relief was like bliss.

"Oh, I got that palmtop thing that Relena gave me for Christmas out from the backseat. All this time and it was still there, can you believe it? The thing is more of a pain in the ass than anything, it took really fuckin' long to get anything loaded on the damn thing, and getting the 'net hooked up was torture." Duo's eyes were fixed absently off in the direction of the table, and his voice rambled on without the use of any upper cognitive functions. It was a soothing noise, but Trowa was busy trying to piece things together.

"What were you looking up?"

"Rehab places." Duo closed his eyes, offering an apology mutely with his posture. "I... I can't do this. But I can't... I *can't* let you down, so..." His voice broke, and his shoulder shuddered, his body closing off to Trowa. "I guess I have to do what it takes, right?"

Trowa nodded once, taking another slow sip. He was starting to feel more awake. "Rehab? What kind of places have you found?"

Duo sighed, and shook his head. "There are a lot of places... but, I don't... I mean, it was just an overdose. An, er, oversight. I don't want... I don't want methadone. I had that the last time, and it... It didn't take, ya know? So, I think I'm gonna try one of those behavioral places... But... There are a lot, but not many that look that good, ya know? And I found one. It's not that far, and it comes really highly recommended... It's. Well. The kind of place that you go into isolation for a week, ya know, and do the intensive therapy and junk deal, and you stay there for at least three months, and go daily as an outpatient for three months more. It's really intense. And expensive..."

Trowa swallowed. Duo sounded forlorn, just like he had last night... Trowa knew that tone, he knew that feeling. He knew what it was like to be trapped and hurting.

He reached out, and put his hand on Duo's skin. "We can work it out."

Duo nodded tersely. "Well, I guess... But I've been thinking. It's not going to be good for our 'careers' that we've taken this little vacation. And I'm going to be in a lot of trouble. I don't know... It just seems like I'm getting us into more and more trouble with every breath. This is going to be intense." Duo spoke quietly, measuring each word carefully, his fingers picking at his fingernails, his eyes lowered. Trowa gave him the peace to speak. "If I fail... and I'm out of work, and I have this debt, I don't know how I'll ever be able to get my shit together again."

Trowa reached out, putting his hand on Duo's neck. He ran his thumb over Duo's jugular, just barely grazing over the skin. He led Duo to move closer to him, and pressed his lips against Duo's cheek. "We can work it out."

Duo nodded, gradually releasing the stress across his shoulders, and relaxing into Trowa's touch.

"Don't worry about our 'careers.' Our jobs sucked; we were only staying there out of guilt. We don't have to worry about that anymore. I can get another job. I'll be making money while you are working on things. We'll work together on the debt. And..." Trowa hesitated. "We can... always ask for help. We know people who wouldn't have any trouble paying that off."

Duo pulled up, his eyes wild and disbelieving. "You can't possibly be delusional enough to think I would go to Quatre for help, can you?"

"Relena." Trowa sighed, and finished off his drink. "Duo, I know it pains you to ask for help, but... She *wants* to be of service. It... would make her happy to help you out. It would put her mind at ease and release her from some of her guilt."

Duo sank back against the headboard, his face blank. "Yeah, I guess."

"We can pay her back as soon as we can. It will just be a loan."

"Yeah."

"Do whatever it takes, right?" Trowa ran his fingers through Duo's hair, letting his fingers touch Duo's skin as he did.

Duo swallowed hard, and nodded. He turned and smiled at Trowa, his eyes looking tired but peaceful. "We don't have to leave right away, do we?"

Trowa shrugged. "I'm not really in the mood for travel."

Duo impulsively leaned over and kissed Trowa fleetingly on the lips. "Me neither. And I still have three packs of cigarettes to get through before I'll be ready to give it up forever." Duo winked at Trowa, smiling wickedly. Trowa's lips quirked in response; he was happy to see some vestiges of Duo's humor returning. Duo stretched out, yawning a bit. "In fact, I think I could use a cig about now... Hey, can I get you anything else? Do you need your bandages changed?"

"No, go ahead." Trowa shifted, his muscles and bones still aching. "I'm going to take some time anyway. We need to get into town and get some read food."

"Yeah, I'll drive." Duo spoke immediately, as if he had anticipated what Trowa was going to say.

Nodding, Trowa continued. "We'll change the bandages right before we leave, then. Take your time. I'm going to wash up and get changed."

Duo nodded, slipping off the bed reluctantly. "Ok. I'll put the sheets back on when you're done. I think they're dry... I left the Do Not Disturb sign out, figured we could use the privacy."

Trowa grabbed Duo's hand before he got too far away, and squeezed as hard as his fingers would let him.

Duo smiled, and for a moment, Trowa felt like it really would be all right. "You know what's scary, Tro? I've been thinking about the future this morning. Like, five years from now and shit. Isn't that crazy?"

Trowa raised his eyebrows. "Perhaps. But maybe... it's a good thing."

Duo stole another quick kiss. "Let's hope so, eh?" Duo swept his hair into a messy, loose braid, and tied it off just before slipping out of the room.

Trowa could see Duo's shadow in the window, pacing in front of their room. He stayed in the bed for a long time, just watching Duo, and imagining the way his fingers would touch his lips briefly as he smoked, and the smell of the cloves and ash in the air. Trowa thought about Duo's hair, and how Duo wouldn't go outside while it was down.

The feel of Duo's hair in between his fingers itched at him, and Trowa stretched and moved to get out of bed.

It was time to start the day.

~*~

The drive into the small town didn't take any time at all. Since he had driven in during the pre-dawn hours, and they had walked up the beach the last time, there was nothing familiar in the landscape. The glimpses of the ocean from between the buildings and trees looked like ocean, but the bright noon sun illuminated everything completely differently than the pale light of the new morning, rendering the surroundings in different angles and colors.

Trowa felt disconnected from the view. He felt fuzzy, his thoughts far away from his body.

Duo drove quietly. He didn't even turn the radio on; his eyes never strayed from the road, and he didn't speak. He had his elbow on the door, his cheek resting in his palm, his other hand on the wheel.

Trowa watched him from the corner of his eye as the scenery streamed by them. Duo was probably exceeding the speed limit a little, but the speed limit was probably a bit low considering the width of the road.

Duo was certainly as good a driver as he had ever been.

Trowa remembered some of the things that Duo had told him last night, and it seemed impossible. How could Duo have crawled through an air vent and then kill three armed men with his bare hands, and years later be driving down the road like anyone else? It was surreal.

But then, how often did Trowa think about all the things that he had done over the years, when he was child and during the war, in the context of his normal, mundane life? He worked in a damn cube, but he knew what it smelled like when you dumped napalm on a dairy farm. He didn't suppose many of his coworkers could relate to that.

Trowa was intimately aware of how much he had in common with Duo. He closed his eyes, and his mind spun in circles, dizzily. He remembered something about ribbons binding lovers together, and he tried to imagine the bloody threads of their lives entangling them together in an embrace.

He hadn't realized that the car had stopped until Duo took his arm gently. His car door was open, and Duo was looking down at him with a worried expression. Trowa wasn't sure, but he thought that he smiled at Duo.

They went to the restaurant, the only one in town that was still open. Mostly, it was just the locals that were occupying the small, vinyl-covered booths. There was a single menu tucked in its spot on the metal clip at the end of the table, behind the salt and pepper, sugar, and ketchup.

Duo picked it up, and offered it to Trowa. He stared at the menu, not seeing the words. He wanted to think that the plastic cover was too covered in grease to be able to read it well, but it was far more likely that there was something wrong with him.

The waitress was old enough to be their grandmother, and she looked down on them as if she was afraid she might have to touch them. "You boys aren't from around here, are you?"

If Duo got a chance to respond to that, things might not have ended with them eating, so Trowa ignored the waitress and went straight to his question. "What soup do you have?"

She continued to stare at him, making him wonder if he had slurred his words. "Chicken noodle, navy bean, and minestrone."

Trowa nodded. "Ok, I'll have a bowl of minestrone, a lemonade, and a glass of water. Does that come with bread?"

"Yup," she turned to Duo without writing down Trowa's orders. "And you? Are you on a liquid diet, too?"

Duo glared, but kept his voice even. "Turkey on wheat, no bacon, no lettuce, no tomato, and definitely no mayo."

"Hmph, got it." She sauntered back to the counter, leaning over to talk to the cook in the kitchen behind in what she must have thought were conspiratorial tones.

Trowa shook his head. "Was I slurring my words?"

Duo glared at the waitress' fat ankles. "No, but she probably thought you were illiterate, since the soups were on the menu."

"Oh." Trowa looked down at the greasy plastic-covered page in his fingers, and continued to fail to decipher any language. "I see."

Duo sighed, and took the menu from Trowa, putting it back where it belonged. "Sure you didn't want to have something more substantial to eat?"

Shrugging, Trowa looked away. "It would just make me sick."

Duo nodded, and stared down at his hands. His fingers were wrapped up together, and his knuckled were white from the tension.

Trowa reached out, and put his hand over Duo's. "This place is nice."

"Except for the people," Duo snorted, giving the waitress and the mumbling people around her a dirty look.

Trowa smiled weakly. "Yeah, but that's true everywhere."

Duo blinked twice, and then turned back to face Trowa. "I don't know why more people aren't jaded cynics. It's really the only logical conclusion, based on the universe."

Shrugging, Trowa started to pull out sugar packets, one by one. "People are stupid."

"Can't argue with that," Duo agreed, his eyes sparkling.

Trowa made a neat row of sugar packets absently. He loved the way that Duo was looking at him right then. "This *is* nice."

Duo's face sobered softly, leaving him with a warm expression. After a pause long enough for reflection, Duo nodded minutely. "Yeah, it is."

The food was actually good. The soup was warm, and not too fatty. The noodles were thick, and Trowa enjoyed sucking them past his lips and swallowing them whole. They paid in cash, leaving the waitress an exorbitantly high tip, out of twisted spite.

They talked about nothing. They just chatted here and there, about whatever they were thinking about. On the drive home, Duo explained to Trowa in excessive detail his grand theory on why taxes were a mad scheme derived by Satan to get people to kill themselves.

It didn't even scare Trowa when he started to agree with Duo.

They parked, but neither wanted to go back to the room. Trowa had gotten an iced tea to go, so he sipped his drink as Duo lit his cigarette, and they went for a walk on the beach.

After a while, they each came to the decision independently to carry their shoes rather than try to walk on the sand. The sky was bright, with enough clouds to keep it from being sunny. The water was rushing in and out, and there was an absorbing pleasantness about everything that made Trowa a little tired.

He sat down in the sand. He put his hand down and curled his fingers around the sand beneath him. It was cool and soft. Duo was still walking behind him, going in a big circle.

"How do your arms feel?"

Duo hadn't asked about that yet, not so directly. Trowa tugged a bit self-consciously at his sleeves. "I'm fine."

Duo sighed, and Trowa could practically hear him roll his eyes. "You said that yesterday, too. We need to work on your definition of the word 'fine.' Do they hurt?"

Trowa stared at the horizon, watching the surf slide in and out absently. "I guess."

Duo was standing behind him. Trowa could feel the way he was concentrating. "Have you ever done that... when someone else was around... before?"

Trowa closed his eyes, and leaned back on palms. He let his head roll back, stretching his neck by rolling it from side to side.

Duo sat down next to him, placing his hand carefully right next to Trowa's hand. "We have a bizarre sort of intimacy, don't we?"

Trowa smiled, inspired to laugh but able to keep it contained.

Sighing, Duo put his head on Trowa's shoulder. "I'm a little afraid, Tro."

"Me, too." Trowa spoke quietly, aware of how his lips moved as he spoke.

"Are you sure that I can do this?"

Trowa nodded twice.

Duo sighed, and put his hands around Trowa's arm. "Do you want to have sex?"

Opening his eyes, Trowa considered. "I'm not sure I have the stamina."

Laughing, Duo rubbed his cheek against Trowa's shoulder. "I'm sick of sitting around here being depressing and crap. And since I'm gonna be away... Let me spend the night sucking on your cock."

There was a slight warmth on his cheeks now, and Trowa had to bite his lower lip to keep from grinning. "Well... if you insist... I'd like to undress you slowly, if you don't mind."

"I think I can work my way around to accepting that." Duo smiled as he spoke, and Trowa could hear it. "I want to put my hands on every inch of your skin. I want to taste you and smell you and hold you so that when I'm bed by myself in rehab, I can still have you with me, somehow."

Trowa shuddered, and hid the gesture haphazardly by turning to put his arm around Duo. "It won't be so bad," he spoke mechanically, not even bothering to try to believe what he was saying.

"Right." Duo leaned into Trowa's body, and Trowa closed his arms, pulling Duo in tighter. "It'll only a week... before I'll even be able to see you again."

Trowa put his cheek down on Duo's hair. "We won't leave right away. We can take tomorrow off, too."

Duo nodded against Trowa's shirt.

"I want to unbraid your hair, and brush it. Run my fingers through it, and wrap it around my body while you suck me off. And when we're done, I want to wash it, and dry it, and rebraid it for you."

Duo sighed, and burrowed into Trowa. "I... I'm going to miss you, Tro. I don't know... I don't know for sure that I can do this."

Trowa lifted Duo's chin, and kissed him. Their lips and tongues and teeth touched, and Trowa could taste how stale Duo's breath was. "I'm going to miss you, too, Duo."

Duo's eyes were bright. Trowa couldn't tell if it was the way the sun was shining on them or not. "Can we do this?"

Trowa ran his fingers down the side of Duo's face. "We have to, right? Hell, we can do anything, really. It'll just be a memory soon. We'll get through this, and then we'll be in bed together, or on the couch, and we'll remember that we were so nervous.

"We'll be together when it's over." Trowa didn't leave any room for debate in his tone. He pushed Duo down into the sand, and put one hand on Duo's hip, digging his fingers into Duo's flesh. "When you're scared, just remember that I'm scared, too, ok?" He kissed Duo again, sucking gently on Duo's lips, and brushing at Duo's bangs with his hand. "We're still in this together."

Duo put his hands on Trowa's neck, and sighed, tasting Trowa's lips. "Yeah, ok. I can't... I can't *promise* you that I won't let you down, but... I'm trying, Tro, ok? For you. I'm trying for you."

"I know." Trowa sighed, and put his hand under Duo's shirt. Duo's skin was cold, and it seemed to tingle under his fingers. "Me too, ok?"

Duo nodded, his lips curling in a forced smile as his eyes sparkled with fear. "Ok."

Trowa got up to his knees. "Well, let's get back to the room, then. We have plans for tonight."

~*~

[cont]