author: trixie
see part 1 for notes, disclaimers, etc.
notes: more of the same? *shrugs*

Rattlesnakes + Part 13

Trowa stood in front of the window, and looked down onto the street below. It was a grey world downtown. It was raining, and most people on the streets had raincoats tightly bundled around them, or umbrella up. The wet cement of the sidewalk, and the asphalt of the road, and the wet people and cars all
streamed below him. He felt an uneasy sense of disconnect that was unsettling.

The door to the office opened, but Trowa didn't look up.

"Mr. Barton!" Dr. Clarkson was understandably surprised. "We don't have an appointment this morning, do we?"

Trowa said nothing. A mother was walking her two children down the street, fighting against the crowd to get them where she wanted to go. There were a million tiny details about her that advertised that she was not accustomed to the city. Trowa watched as her daughter jogged to keep up, her white tights wet all the way up to the bottom of her skirt. He wondered if anything would happen to them.

"Of course, we almost certainly *don't* have an appointment; if we did, you wouldn't be here." The doctor put down his briefcase on top of his desk, and pulled his beige trench coat off irritably. "Did I leave the office door unlocked?"

Trowa turned away from the window, and regarded the doctor. "I just came to formally end Duo's and my relationship with you."

"How considerate," Dr. Clarkson replied, a condescension lending cynicism to his voice, "especially since you have neglected to attend any sessions for the past two weeks."

"To be fair," Trowa sighed, "Duo has been seeing a real psychologist for nearly a week now."

"Excuse me?" Dr. Clarkson's hackles raised, and Trowa almost laughed at his deplorable defenses.

He took a deep breath, and savored the moment. "He almost died, you know. He has problems."

Dr. Clarkson crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture that was both dismissive and nervous. "I'm well aware of Mr. Maxwell's problems. And of yours..."

"You haven't got the slightest clue," Trowa contradicted, his voice more emotional than he expected. "Even though it was your job to help him."

"I tried!" Dr. Clarkson threw his hands up in a frantic gesture of defeat. "I can't help someone who won't open up! It's a process that requires cooperation."

Trowa sneered. "You were too damn busy picturing him naked to care. I know he's attractive. I know a helluva lot better than you ever will. But it was your job to care."

Dr. Clarkson opened his mouth to reply, but his brain lagged behind his body, and there was only silence.

"You don't deserve to call yourself a doctor." Trowa walked away, leaving the condemnation behind him.

He stepped out onto the street, having forgotten about the rain until it splattered on his head. He looked up at the sky, the rain falling in gentle sheets, the clouds long blankets of grey. He stood in the rain until his hair was completely wet, and his skin was cold.

He felt numb, but there was a lingering buzz in his fingers. Tomorrow, he would be able to see Duo again.

It was shaping out to be a good morning.

~*~

Trowa sat on the bench next to the fountain, the bubbling water spilling over the rocks annoyingly soothing in a distracting way. He sat with his leg crossed at his ankles, and he stared straight ahead. Whenever anyone caught his eye, he nodded with formal politeness.

He had known that visiting hours did not begin until 11am, but he hadn't actually slept the night before. As soon as the first rays of light delineated his room, he got dressed with spastic energy. Once he had been dressed, it was hard to stay in the apartment, so he got his keys and went to the car. He stopped at a drive-through to get breakfast, because once in the car, he didn't want to get out of the car until he was at the treatment center. He didn't eat the greasy egg and sausage sandwich, and seriously considered his sanity for having purchased it, and that meant that he had nowhere else to go.

He had sat in his car for fully two hours waiting. His windows got foggy, and he had started to get really chilled. His hands had shifted nervously over his lap, and foot had fidgeted. He had no longer been able to keep still.

The receptionist looked mildly concerned when he entered, explaining about visiting hours before he could get to the desk, so he sat down right away.

It was soothing, just to be in the right building. To know that it was soon, and that he wouldn't have to wait forever. That he was going to see Duo again.

In the blank time in between, his mind invariably was left alone to wander.

He had never felt this way before. He had never been so nervous. It was disconcerting, to say the least. He had known for a while now that Duo had managed to become a larger part of his life than he had initially been willing to allow, but new and frightening ramifications were materializing.

There were certain things that were becoming hard to deny.

The receptionist stood up, and walked across the lobby to stand in front of Trowa, her heels clicking against the decorative tile. "It's time," she smiled. "Let me take you back."

He stood up slowly, his head feeling lighter than his body anticipated. He walked behind her, each step feeling distinct. They walked into the treatment center proper, and Trowa followed as she led him past the multipurpose room, past the kitchen and dining room, past single patient treatment room, and to the door leading outside.

She stood aside as she got to the door, extending a hand in invitation. "Dr. Mahoney said that Mr. Maxwell went to sit by the pond after his session this morning. Follow the path, and it is to your right." She smiled brightly at him, and he tried to do something other than nod stupidly.

There was a knot of fear choking him, but he followed her directions regardless.

Trowa watched for Duo, keeping his fists clenched until he saw him.

Duo was sitting on a bench next to a small hole that had been filled with water. There was a small fountain in the middle of the hole, spitting water up into the air. Trowa stopped dead in his tracks as soon as he saw him; for a moment, it was difficult to think. Duo's hair was neatly, but loosely, braided, and he wore the thin clothes of a long-term patient, with a small, open sweatshirt jacket hung over his torso. He was staring off into space, his expression blankly disquieted. His skin looked pale, and his eyes looked dark and puffy. He even looked like he had lost some weight.

Trowa was smiling unconsciously when he sat down. "Hey."

Duo's gaze drifted to Trowa, and he pulled his legs up, wrapping his arms around his calves. "Hey."

Trowa's arm reached out over the length of the top of the bench, stopping respectfully when he was within Duo's space. "How are you?"

Duo nodded absently. "I would honestly commit wholesale slaughter of the innocents for a bottle of whiskey and a cigarette. Other than that, great."

Trowa ducked his head down, laughing quietly to himself. "Good."

Duo nodded in response, his expression seemingly awakening.

"So, they treat you ok?"

Duo shrugged half-heartedly. "Everyone is really nice. It takes the bounce out of praying for their painful demise. I think... I think I'm starting to get used to it."

Trowa nodded. "I've missed you."

Duo reacted, although Trowa puzzled, cataloging every tiny facet of the reaction, trying to read Duo's mood. "Yeah."

There was a space of silence, and Trowa wanted to move closer to Duo, but he was content to be on the same bench. Duo was fixedly looking away from Trowa, his body tense and alert. His eyes would dart to check on Trowa every few seconds. Duo swallowed hard, and looked away.

"So, what have you been up to?"

Trowa shifted a little so that he was facing Duo completely. "Oh, not much. I resigned for both of us."

Duo looked startled, blinking rapidly. "Oh, yeah. I forgot. How did that go?"

"Ok," Trowa nodded. "Une was nice about it. I got to punch Heero in the face. Oh, and I saw Dr. Clarkson yesterday, to officially end our patronage of his services."

Duo shook his head. "Some guys get all the fun..."

Trowa took Duo's braid into his hand gently, and ran his fingers over the coils of hair. "I've missed you."

Duo nodded. After the space of several heartbeats, when Trowa's words had faded away completely, Duo turned and leaned on Trowa's shoulder, cuddling himself against Trowa. "Yeah."

Trowa had the extreme pleasure of putting his arms around Duo. Duo was boney and thin, and even through the jacket, he felt cold. Trowa put his face against the top of Duo's head, and sighed. "I worried about you."

Trowa's voice sounded like it was in a dream, like it wasn't very close to Duo after all. Duo put his hand on Trowa's chest, and sighed. "Yeah."

"What do you think of it?"

"Of what? Here?" Duo closed his eyes. "I don't know."

Trowa put his lips against the skin of Duo's temple. "You can do this." He wasn't even quite sure that he had spoke aloud, but Duo squeezed his eyes shut tighter, and sighed.

They sat on the bench for long enough to get cold and stiff, but neither moved until the orderly regretfully announced that Duo had another session. They stood up together, somehow ending up holding hands and facing each other when they were both on their feet. Duo pulled his hands away, and Trowa did not try to stop them, and as they walked back inside, Trowa could still feel the tingle of friction in his palms.

They got to the branch where Duo would walk away. Trowa stood awkwardly, trying not to stare at the wall.

"You'll come back tomorrow?" Duo's voice was uncertain, but the weak hope that colored the words made Trowa smile.

He put his hand on Duo's cheek, and leaned in to kiss Duo's lips. "Of course."

Duo nodded, his cheeks pinked just enough to give him color. "Ok."

Trowa nodded, and went to walk away. He had to mentally remind himself to put one foot in front of the other, trying not to think about Duo standing behind him, watching him leave.

"Tro?"

He turned. Duo looked like a child, his eyes large and worried.

"I'm trying."

Trowa nodded. "Me, too."

Duo nodded, and turned to go to his session, his head down and his shoulders slumped.

Everything seemed black and white to Trowa for the rest of the day, like the world was nothing more than a grainy, silent film from ages past.

~*~

The apartment was empty. Trowa drifted from room to room, his eyes narrowed, his hands rubbing his arms. He sat down on the couch, only to bounce back up a moment later. He was restless. He was nervous.

Relena had left him a message. Several, in fact. He didn't listen to them. He played the messages, her voice becoming the ambient noise that surrounded him, but he didn't listen.

His mind was running in tight circles around his visit with Duo. He was rehearing everything Duo had said, reseeing everything about Duo, refeeling Duo in his arms...

His arms hurt. They ached, and he kept rubbing them. If he wore a rough linen shirt, he might be able to tear his skin off if he rubbed hard enough. He didn't own any rough linen shirts, though. He wanted to cut them. He visualized the thin lines of red, the droplets of blood eking out, the sizzling touch of the blade...

He had always thought of his cutting as a choice, which meant that he could always choose to not cut. But he had already chosen not to cut, and he still felt the burn of the blood in his arms, the pain in his flesh, the ache in his bones...

He tried to sit down again. His thoughts were drifting alarmingly. There were fourteen hours between now and when he could see Duo again. That was more than half a day, that was nearly 60% of a day.

He tried to listen to Relena's messages again. Her voice had the effect of bubbling over his ears, so that even when he thought he was listening, he would find that there were gaps. She wanted him to get a job. He heard that.

The idea had merit, of course. There were bills to pay; the rent was due in a week, and the utilities would be trickling all the time. Plus, gas money to drive out to the treatment center, and food, enough so that Duo wouldn't worry. His bank account was healthy, but it wouldn't remain so without an income.

The problem was that he had no idea how to rectify the situation. It was all well and good to know that he needed a job, but they didn't exactly just hand those things out. The job with the Preventors had been set up while he had been recovering in the hospital. He had never been on a job interview in his life.

And how did people even find jobs? Did he need a resume? Should he look in the paper? Maybe that was a good idea. Maybe in the morning, he would get a paper, and go through the want ads. That was a plan.

The deception was not enough to calm his thirst. The apartment was still empty. He drifted into the bedroom, but could not bring himself to sit on the bed. He sat in the window, and stared down at the alley.

The alley was empty, too. It was dark, and empty, and there was nothing to watch, not even a cat or rat.

He pinched his wrists, and stared at the wall. His arms *hurt*. He didn't know how much longer he could just sit there. And the more he wandered around, the likelier it would be that he would wander into the bathroom. And if he wandered into the bathroom, he might break his promise to Duo.

He closed his eyes, and imagined Duo lying in a cot in the treatment center, his braid on the bed next to him. He imagined Duo's hair unbound, thick bunches of hair splayed all around. He imagined his hands in Duo's hair, Duo's lips touching his...

He looked down at his hand between his legs in horrored fascination. He felt nothing. He pulled his hand out, and got up quickly, walking to the kitchen with his hand held out from his body. He turned the water in the sink onto hot, and held the hand there, letting the water heat up. When the water was near scalding, he picked up the bottle of dish soap, and filled the palm of the hand with the viscous blue fluid. He dared to put the other hand on the hand, and scrubbed.

The water was hot, and his hands felt burned, and he kept both hands under the water until the water started to cool again. Disappointed, he took his hands out of the water, and scrubbed them dry on a dishtowel. He kept scrubbing them long after all the water had disappeared, just rubbing his hands vigorously against the cloth. He stared at the tile on the kitchen floor, and scrubbed.

His hands were raw and red, but they did not bleed. He wouldn't have to explain this to Duo, but he didn't have the release.

He went to sit down on the couch. He felt exhausted, but he couldn't keep his eyes closed. His thought still flittered around, unfocused and restless. He wanted to turn on the television, but it was too far away. The remote was sitting on the table next to him, but it wasn't in his hands.

Duo was gone.

He kept spinning around that point. He started to hate the quiet, but he did nothing to change it. He got up again, and walked away from the living room.

He put on his jacket, and walked out the door.

He had nowhere to go, and nothing to do, but he walked fast, keeping his eyes straight ahead. It was late enough that the streets were empty, and most of the lights were out in the stores and windows. But it was still early enough that the streets weren't empty, not entirely.

He walked almost all the way to Preventors' headquarters, and then detoured sharply to avoid actually being in sight of the Preventors' campus. He took the path through the park that Duo and he had eaten in on several occasions in the past. In the park, there was a stillness that was absent in the streets, even with the streets so quiet. There was a darkness that was more encompassing, and Trowa was more than happy to bask in it. He sat down on what he supposed was the exact bench that Duo and he had sat on, and he watched the night.

He let his thoughts bleed away into the blackness around him, let his body go completely still, and he watched.

The noise of cars on the street started to break into his reverie, and before he knew it, there was light illuminating the emptiness of the park. He stood up in disgust, and walked back to the apartment.

He slowed his stride as he neared his building. Parked next to the entrance was a long, stylish limo. The driver was standing next to the limo, keeping an eye on the denizens of the neighborhood warily. Relena was at the door, pressing a button he was left to assume was theirs.

It was a quandary. On the one hand, he could turn around, and pretend that he had someplace else that he wanted to be. But, Relena had helped Duo, and him, and it seemed unmannerly to ignore her now.

The question became moot when Relena saw him standing there. She made her usual cheerful greetings, and Trowa scowled, cursing the slowness of his brain.

"Trowa! Oh, thank heavens! I've been trying to reach you for days, but I suppose that you've been busy."

Her face was expectant and hopeful, and he didn't have the heart to be aloof. He nodded gravely, and spoke quietly. "Sorry. Duo's doing well."

She beamed. "Well, that takes care of my first question, although I knew that he would be. He's got such amazing strength."

Trowa nodded, though he wondered how she would know about Duo's strength.

"Do you have time for breakfast? There's something I want to discuss with you, if that's all right?"

She was being so solicitous, and friendly. It made Trowa feel sick, and sick of himself. He didn't know how to refuse her, so he got carried along with her to the limo.

They drove in companionable silence, although Relena chatted aimlessly about something Trowa wasn't listening to; he watched the scenery go by from his window, and tried to keep his face from forming a scowl.

They stopped in an office building, and Relena rushed in with styled grace, like an orderly typhoon sweeping by efficiently from point A to B. Trowa followed in her wake, his hands in his pockets, his eyes cast downward. There was a cacophony of 'Hello, Miss Relena,' and 'Good morning, Ms. Peacecraft,' and 'How do you do, Relena?' Trowa did not look up at any of the myriad of people that littered Relena's life. Their chatter and busyness reminded him of an insect hive.

They went into Relena's office, which was roughly the size of their whole apartment. There was a small meeting table in a nook to the side, and breakfast for two was sumptuously laid out. Relena smiled nervously, and shrugged. "Forgive my liberty, but I was really hoping to kidnap you for a while.

"We have a lot to discuss."

Trowa stood by the table, his hands still in his pockets, and he stared at the eggs, as if he could discern the source of their betrayal if he looked hard enough. Relena sat down, and placed her napkin over her lap in a business-like fashion. She looked up at him with such blank expectation, he found himself sitting down.

She smiled, and poured him a glass of orange juice, freshly squeezed, no doubt. "Thank you for indulging me. I know I'm butting in where I don't belong, and, honestly, tell me to mind my own damn business if you like, but I still want to be helpful. To tell you the truth, Heero told me about what happened with the Preventors. After I asked him 500 times about his black eye." She winked at Trowa, her mouth twisted in a grin that was clearly a restrained laugh. "And I think, good for you! It may seem strange to hear it from me, but why would anyone put up with the bureaucracy of a government-run organization if they didn't have to?"

It did sound strange, but thankfully Trowa did not have to say so, as Relena continued to talk.

"Anyway, they weren't using your talents, and they weren't facilitating your growth. I mean, I know she's done wonderful things since the war, but Une is not exactly someone who *nurtures*, is she?" There was more than the slight condemnation in her eyes, and Trowa had to admit, he admired the way she was able to subjugate her personal feelings for the good of the many. "But. This does leave you unemployed. And I wouldn't interfere! It's not that I'm afraid that I won't get paid back, *you* know, but I am concerned, and I want to be a good friend."

Trowa blinked, and blindly raised a slice of toast to his lips. She was perfectly happy carrying on the one-sided conversation while eating away. There were tiny lines next to her eyes that he had never seen before, and he thought about all the energy she must expend in a day, being so cheerful. No wonder she was willing to go to such extremes to get out of the public eye.

"So. I have a contact at a university research lab who needs an assistant, part time. It's a well-funded project, so they can pay you reasonably well, and the work is a little dangerous, but nothing you can't handle." She dismissed any nascent doubts with confidence.

He blinked. He supposed this meant that he didn't need a newspaper. "What sort of project?"

She bounced in her seat just a little, and leaned forward. "Well, it's a physics lab, and they are working on clean energy sources. They have some sort of engine that they test basically everyday. They need a technician to operate, maintain, and set up the engine. Does that sound interesting? Would you like to meet her?"

Trowa swallowed uncomfortably. "Well, I have to visit Duo every day. The visiting hours start at 11am."

"Oh, that's no problem!" She batted away his concern with a flick of her wrist. "They do their testing early, so they can analyze the results and make adjustments. I don't honestly understand what they do, but Dr. Levin said that she would be thrilled if she could find someone to work from 6 to 10 am. That's why I thought of you, because it sounds so perfect! You can work, and then go to see Duo, and then have the whole evening to yourself. I mean, obviously, that's just part time work, but that's all right, isn't it? Because, I was thinking, you know, if you, I don't know, wanted to take any courses or anything there, then that would be doubly perfect." Her body language changed, and she looked to Trowa like a cat who was pretending to not be hiding a treat. "The university has a great online program, and if you were working there, you could take classes for free."

Trowa leaned back. Relena was quite crafty, but she also had a point. A job that didn't interfere with visiting hours was perfect. "Ok."

"Really?!?!" Relena bounced in her seat again. Trowa pushed back from the table a little, cautious. "That's great! I'll have Jorge take you to see her right after breakfast! Oh, this is fabulous! Thank you so much for letting me help you out like this! I'll call Dianna right away, to let her know that you're coming."

Trowa sat there, and picked up a slice of orange. He wondered if there would ever be a time in his life when the course of his actions would be determined by his own choices.

~*~

Duo was waiting for him in the multipurpose room, sitting on a couch, his legs folded under his body, his arms wrapped around his stomach. He was staring straight ahead, away from the door. Trowa coughed a little as he approached, to be sure that he wasn't taking Duo by surprise.

Duo didn't react as he sat down next to him, although Trowa could feel Duo's concentration on him. He placed a bagel wrapped in a napkin down on the couch right next to Duo's knee. Duo looked down at it for a moment, and then raised his eyes to smile at Trowa.

Trowa turned and put his elbow on the top of the couch. "So. How are you?"

"Fine," Duo replied, his eyes rolling a bit as if it were an unavoidably obvious question. "Thanks." He nodded down at the bagel, keeping his arms where they were around his waist.

"No problem." Trowa put his arm down on the couch, his hand just an inch or less from Duo's shoulder.

Duo shied away, and sighed. "Are you going to come every day?"

Trowa blinked. "Yes."

Duo nodded, and Trowa wasn't sure about his reaction.

"Everything ok?" Trowa felt like his grip was slipping on something important, but the only thing to do was to keep holding on; he only wished that he knew better what to say.

Duo shrugged, and looked away.

Trowa nodded, and looked at his fingernails. "I got a job."

Duo's eyes widened, but he didn't look at Trowa. "Oh. Cool."

"It looks ok. It's only part time." Trowa wanted to get up and walk around. He didn't want to be motionless if he was going to be kept so far away from Duo.

"Oh." Duo unwound one arm from its protective position, and reached for the bagel. "You shouldn't make sacrifices for me like that, though. Did you get any sleep last night?"

Trowa looked more keenly at Duo. "How did you know?"

Duo smiled faintly. "You're talking slower."

Trowa thought about it, and he felt himself grinning a little. "The apartment is empty."

Duo nodded, the smile fading from his face.

"How did you sleep?" Trowa wasn't sure why he asked, or what answer he thought he was going to get.

Duo sighed. "Ok. I had a nightmare."

Trowa didn't know what to say. It was in the past, now, and any comfort he could offer, then, would be hours cold.

Duo shrugged. "We were kissing, naked. You wanted me to cut you, so I was. Then I was stabbing you, over and over again, and you were loving it, and then you came and died at the same time. And you said that death was the best orgasm there is. Which was odd, because you were already dead."

Trowa ducked his head, and grinned a little. "Yeah. I had a bad nightmare about you, last week."

"Yeah?" Duo sounded as though he was trying not to sound interested.

Trowa nodded, shrugging. "Left me feeling... sick, desperate."

Nodding, Duo started to tear the bagel into pieces. "Yeah."

"It was just a dream, though."

Duo nodded absently. "Yeah. Ok. Can I see your arms?"

Trowa blinked. He swallowed hard, and then he leaned forward. He pulled up the sleeves of his turtleneck, pulling them up as far as the elastic bands at his wrists would allow.

Duo had his head facing down as he tore the bagel, but his gaze drifted up to look over Trowa's arms. Trowa was almost certain he heard Duo sigh despondently when he saw that there were no marks. Duo nodded, and put one piece of the bagel in his mouth. "Yeah."

Trowa pulled his sleeves down quickly, just a bit frantically. He folded his hands in his lap, and looked away.

Duo kept eating bagel pieces slowly, and Trowa could hear him chewing silently from across the couch. He imagined Duo's teeth crushing and mashing the bagel pieces, and way Duo's throat would move when he swallowed. He understood objectively that he desired Duo, and that he was longing for him, but that objective assessment seemed meaningless in the discreet reality of the situation. There was a breach between them now.

There was another patient across the room, drawing on a sketchpad. He had long pencils, black on the outside, and from the distance, Trowa couldn't tell if they were mechanical or wooden. The artist kept glancing at them as he drew, and Trowa wondered what he saw.

The windows lining the room were covered in vertical blinds, redirecting the noonday sun and filtering the light. There were only increasingly narrower vertical stripes of outside, and the disjointed image was obscured enough that Trowa's mind was able to supply the meadow in his dream. He was overwhelmed with the need to touch Duo's skin.

He took Duo's hand gently, running his fingers over Duo's skin softly, giving Duo plenty of time to pull away. When Duo merely settled for watching what Trowa was doing, he put his other hand around Duo's hand, and cradled it in his two hands. He raised Duo's hand slowly, not griping it tightly enough to prevent Duo from escaping. He touched his lips to the knuckle of Duo's index finger, and remained in the kiss for several long moments.

Duo put his other hand on the back of Trowa's head tentatively, and Trowa felt uncommonly happy.

"I miss you."

Duo nodded, running his fingernail through Trowa's hair. "Me, too."

Trowa nodded, and lifted his head again. He looked into Duo's eyes, and for a second, he tried to delude himself in believing that he could see everything that Duo felt.

They knew before the orderly came this time that their visit was ending, and they got up and walked out of the room on their own. At the door, Duo paused, hesitating. He twisted his torso, stretching his back, as he bit his lip. Trowa was about to say something, when Duo leaned forward, put his hand on Trowa's cheek, and kissed Trowa, sucking on Trowa's bottom lip as he backed off again.

Trowa touched his hand to his lips, and Duo turned and walked off as fast as he could without running.

Trowa watched him go, the feel of Duo's lips on his as he did.

~*~

It became routine. He went to work in the morning, arriving in the lab at 5:45 every day. He set up the engine to the specifications of the day's experiment, and ran it. The good doctor was apparently not a morning person, because she was almost never around while he was there, so he usually just left the print outs on her desk. He would leave the campus at 10:05, and arrive at the treatment center between 10:45 and 10:55. He would wait in his car, so that he wouldn't cause the receptionist alarm, and he would walk into the lobby at 10:58.

He would stay with Duo until 12:30, at which point Duo had a session with Dr. Mahoney. Duo went to three sessions a day, one for meditation, one focused on coping with withdrawal, and a third session in the afternoon which lasted three hours in which they discussed the root issues of his problems. Each day, Duo seemed more and more worn and tired, and he was increasingly irritable and sarcastic. He didn't like Trowa to touch him much, each day withdrawing more and more physically from Trowa. He didn't talk much, either, until it got to the point where they were basically just sitting together, on opposite sides of the couch, saying nothing. Duo would lash out chaotically as well, and regularly demand to see his arms, or grill him with questions about how Trowa was eating and sleeping.

It remained the best part of his day.

In the afternoons, he had no idea what to do with himself. He invariably ended up at the apartment, where he would sit on the couch. He preferred sitting on the couch at the treatment center, because there, he wasn't alone. Occasionally, he would doze as he sat there, his head tipping forward, his hands in his lap.

When night came, Trowa would become antsy. He would not be able to sit still or think straight. His thoughts seemed to swirl in his head and become mixed, so that everything that was once distinct was now attached to a million other thoughts.

At these times, he went out, and wandered in the night.

Since he had to be at work so early, the night was only half as long as it used to be, but the daylight hours stretched and stretched. He went to a bookstore after seeing Duo one day, and bought three magazines and a book. He put each item on the coffee table so that no one item had to touch any other item. It was so neatly arranged, he didn't want to disturb it by reading any of them.

He would have to think of another way to occupy his time.

Soon enough, there was a problem with money. He didn't like to worry about it, but his income was now less than a third of what it was, and his expenses had actually increased. He laid out all of his records on the kitchen table with diligent care. He added everything up, and produced a forecast of the next six months based on the numbers he had. He did all the work by hand, so that it would take that much longer.

After redoing the calculations for the fifth time, he decided he needed to look for a new apartment.

He considered talking to Duo about it, but it didn't seem to matter that much. Duo wasn't there, so when they left the treatment center, Duo would just come with him to their new apartment. Besides, the day he thought the most about saying something, Duo was particularly melancholy, and when they separated, Duo had hugged him, squeezing Trowa's neck tightly, and pressing his whole body against Trowa's.

Trowa was content for the rest of that day, and he had no desire to spoil it with details.

To his mind, the greatest concern in his life was Duo's unpredictable moodiness, and the fact that it was becoming possible that Duo might not want to be with him when he got out. Trowa did not think about this, because when he did, he had to leave the apartment to go sit in the park for hours.

He searched for an apartment in the newspaper. Most places advertised online, of course, but Trowa looked forward to the possibility of circling a potential new apartment's listing with a red felt tip pen. He had never looked for an apartment before; Catherine found his current abode for him while he made arrangements to leave the circus. He had never thought about how she had found it before, but as it turned out, apartments were hard to find.

He went to go see his best bet after seeing Duo on a rainy Wednesday. He liked the rain, and the way it made the streets seem cleaner, and he hoped that it was a good omen for the trip. The neighborhood was not nearly as nice as where he was moving them from, but he wasn't nervous about it. He didn't see anyone around whom he couldn't take down without difficulty, even if they caught him while he was asleep. There was, however, a liquor store on the ground floor of the building, and Trowa decided that it wouldn't work out like that.

For the rest of the day, he kept gravitating around the thought that they would never find a new place to live, and that he was going to have to ask for help from someone, and that Duo would get tired of his lazy, moocher ways, and move on himself, and that he was going to end up entirely alone again. He bit his finger, digging his teeth into the knuckle, and closed his eyes.

He went walking earlier than usual, out before the sun had set. There were more people around, and more stores and shops open. He wandered through some, looking at all the things he would never want to own, and all the things he couldn't afford.

He went to the park.

There was a homeless person sitting on the bench, but he sat down anyway. He stared straight ahead and ignored the way that the homeless was ogling him. He watched the sky, waiting for it to go black so that he could stop thinking.

"Yous one of 'em."

Trowa blinked, but said nothing. He decided that he wasn't sure that the man was talking to him.

"Yous a killer of men when yous juss a li'll boy-child."

Trowa turned to look at the man.

The man's face was weathered and wrinkled, the coarse, short hairs of his beard drawing attention to the rumpled, grainy texture of his skin. He was missing part of his nose, which undoubtedly made it hard for other people to look at him. He wore three thin sweaters over a long sleeved t-shirt under his filthy, leathery slicker, and he had on a pair of sweatpants that were threadbare enough to reveal the pants beneath them. He had boots on with no toes, and his socks had holes at the seams. His toes shrank back from the exposure, and appeared to be black. He wore knit gloves with the fingers cut out, and his stubby fingers were clasped around the handles of his plastic grocery bags.

His eyes were sparkling and alive, filled with color and light, and Trowa knew that he had been in the war, just by the way that the man showed him respect.

"Yous one of 'em. Yous the tall'n. Yous a killer of men, my boy."

"And you?" Trowa asked archly, remaining at ease and relaxed.

The man laughed, a wheezing sound that faintly resembled death. "I's done killed in my time, boy, but I's not a killer of men. I's done killed, though. I's done killed for sure."

Trowa nodded.

"Yous still see t'others?"

Trowa shrugged. "From time to time. Some more than others."

The man laughed again, and slapped his knee. "Yous a coooooool one, yous is boy. Yous a killer of men for sure, yous is. Some more than others. Yous is a cool'n. A tall'n and a cool'n. I's done met t'other one. He's was juss a boy, but he had the eyes of a man, that one. He's was juss a boy, tho. Yous all was juss boys.

"Boys out doing the killings of the men. What a thing humanity is."

Trowa nodded sadly. "Yes."

"T'other one, he was juss a boy, see? But he done made the war like noooooooobody's business. Ain't no one survived that fight but him, you see? He's was juss a boy, tho, diddn know what he had done, see?

"Only t'one of yous boys whose knows what he done did. That one put the fear of the lord in the heart of man who swears and drinks and kills, that one. I's lived through that one's killing, I did. Yes I did. But I don't lives so good no more..."

Trowa wondered which one of them he was talking about. He thought about the five of them, and which one had been the most mature, the most aware of what he had been doing at the time.

He knew the answer, of course, but he found that he did not want the outsider's opinion.

"That was all a long time ago."

"Oh, no's, no's, no... Killings never go away, boy. Killings never go away. Theys stay with ya, boy." The man's voice was earnest and deep, and he put his hand on Trowa's chest, his eyes piercing and dark. "Yous kill a man, yous take his burden witt ya. Yous lift his burden, and take his witt ya. Killings never gos away, killings stay witt ya, killings a weight on yours shoulders, boy. Killings bring a man to his knees, it does, and takes aways every god a man can pray to. Killings never go away."

Trowa was troubled by the man's words, and so he didn't push the hand on his chest away. He didn't feel that way; each person he had killed would have died anyway. He didn't fight battles with immortals. Death was inevitable, as was war. He just accepted it.

But there was something in the man's eyes that reminded him of Duo.

The man nodded slowly. "Yeeeeesssss. Yous see. Yous see not for yourself, but yous see it in t'others. Yous a cooooool one, boy, but t'others, they still just boys making the war for men."

"We have peace now."

"Do you have peace, boy? Is that whys yous in a park at sunset, talkings with the crazy man what done live here? I's see you before, boy. No piece of paper dem politicking people signed done gave you peace, did it, boy?"

Trowa swallowed, and stood up. The man watched him get up, almost marveling at Trowa's mobility. "We can have peace, now."

Trowa walked away, the words the man had said sticking to him like an odor, like ideology by association. It was now dark, but Trowa would not stop thinking. He walked home with long, rapid strides, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on where his feet would land with each step. When he stopped to think about the activity of walking long enough, it became difficult for him to understand how it worked, and he needed to concentrate more and more on each step.

It was something he learned to do before he had language that he could use, and yet he nearly forgot how to do it just by thinking about it.

That thought spawned nebulous trails of thoughts, but they were confused with the trails of thoughts that he had picked up from the man, and so he wasn't able to trace them effectively.

When he got back to the apartment, he took off his clothes right away, dropping them as he walked, and he got into the shower. He turned the water on to scalding, and stood under the spray until he couldn't bear it, not even for a second. He turned the water to cold, and washed his body with Duo's soap, and his hair with Duo's shampoo.

Wet and naked, he crawled into bed, lying on his stomach, his face in Duo's pillow, and he shut his eyes tightly.

He started counting the Fibonacci sequence, and let his breathing and heart rate slow down as he got to the eight digit numbers. Each successive digit took longer and longer, and if he didn't give it his whole body's attention, he would lose his place, and have to start over.

His skin got cold, but he managed to count all the way to 1,346,269.

~*~

[cont]