Rattlesnakes + Part 13 (cont)

~*~

The multipurpose room was swimming in front of his eyes. Trowa felt that this sort of behavior for a room was highly suspicious, but he kept his fears to himself just in case it was only him. He had had to abort the test this morning after twenty minutes when he realized that he had set the specs wrong. Lack of sleep usually didn't bother him that much, but he wasn't used to doing things that actually required precision.

Talking to Duo didn't require precision, but that was only when Duo was talking. Sitting on the couch with Duo while Duo kept looking at him like that required something that Trowa wasn't sure that he had. Especially on no sleep.

Duo was playing with his braid, and Trowa felt irrationally that Duo had just teased him with his hair at the beach. He wanted to reach out and take a hold of the braid, but Trowa's arms and legs felt useless. It was probably for the best.

Duo got up ten minutes before his session, and said something that Trowa's foggy brain interpreted as asking him not to come back tomorrow. Trowa didn't say anything, but he got up to leave as well.

He walked to the lobby with his arms across his chest and his head down. Things had been getting better, hadn't they? They had reached a breaking point at the beach, right?

He squeezed his arms as tightly as he could, and tried not to breathe for as long as he could.

"Mr. Barton? Could I have a moment?"

Trowa stared at Dr. Mahoney for a minute, blankly unable to comprehend what she was saying. He followed her when she motioned for him, feeling compelled by virtue of her vigorous hand waving.

The back of Dr. Mahoney's head was very flat, her hair seeming to fall down from the top of her head in a solid sheet. It came to the middle of the back of her neck, the bottom edge a perfectly straight line across. Trowa disliked the compulsion to neatness that the line of her hair cut implied, although he was somewhat certain that he would have been able to find fault no matter what she did with her hair.

Her office was large, with soft grey walls and a stylishly oversized glass and metal desk in the middle of the room. There were no couches, but the chairs across from her at the desk were cushy and comfortable. Trowa sat down on the edge of the chair, his back ramrod straight.

Dr. Mahoney smiled pleasantly at him, but there was a predatory sharpness in her eyes that alerted Trowa to the fact that this was a test.

"How are you doing today, Mr. Barton?"

"Aren't you supposed to be in a session with Duo?" His tone was clearly dismissive, like the tone that one would use on an underling who had fallen short of expectation.

Dr. Mahoney didn't blink. "Oh, he has a therapeutic assignment for the first hour. We have plenty of time to talk."

Trowa said nothing.

"I have the utmost respect for the confidentiality of my patients, and I have no intention of going behind anyone's back in an underhanded fashion. But I hope that you realize that this process is not easy for Duo, and that he is going to need all the help that he can get from you. In fact, I believe that I already mentioned that patients who had familial support tended to achieve better than those without."

Trowa inclined his head, and did not acknowledge her.

She leaned forward in her chair, her elbows on the desk and her hands clasped together. "Again, I have no intention of intruding upon Mr. Maxwell's privacy, or yours, but as much as my concern is for my patient's rights, my *primary* concern is for my patient's *health*, and therefore I need to ask you some questions." She sighed, and leaned back. "You realize, I have no doubt, that Duo is only here for your behalf."

Trowa waited out the pregnant pause, but it became tragically clear that Dr. Mahoney had no intention in the world of continuing until he commented. "It's good that he has a reason to get himself together." He hadn't expected to sound defensive, but she was looking at him in an accusatory manner.

"Yes, but it puts him in a dependent position. His health is based on his will power, and his resolve, and those depend on you. Right now, he doesn't want to be going through all of this, and who can blame him? If he could just drive you away, then he can go back to avoiding his trauma and sink into the gratifications of self-destruction. I wish that he didn't have you, and was still here, not because I doubt your devotion to him, or your steadfastness, but only because it has been my experience that patients who succeed in battling their addictions are generally the ones that find the motivation within themselves to stop.

"Mr. Maxwell has a great deal of strength, but he's not using all of his potential because he has you to lean on instead."

Trowa shifted uncomfortably in his chair, looking away, and griping his arms tightly. He had the terrifying feeling of her eyes on him, analyzing him and seeing through him. She wasn't like that jackass Clarkson; she knew stuff.

"And what worries me more, and the reason that we're here having this conversation, are some things that Mr. Maxwell has told me about in our sessions. Fears of his, and things that he worries about. Now, once again, I'd like to reiterate that I completely respect both yours and Mr. Maxwell's right to privacy. But in the best interest of my patient, and in your best interest as well, without getting involved in any conversation of details that would be tainted by a conflict of interest on my part, I'd like to offer you a referral." She slid a small, off-white business card across the desk. Because of the massiveness of it, the card was still too far away for him to read without leaning forward; a move Trowa could not help but feel was calculated to draw him over to her side.

The card was quite plain, with a name in the middle, and phone number underneath it. There were no embellishments to the card, and no address. Just a name - Dr. Michael Levy - and a number.

Trowa did not touch the card, but glared at Dr. Mahoney.

"If you are currently under the care of a mental health professional, I will respectfully withdraw the card." She spoke coolly, with no indication that she was moved by the force of his glare. "But if you are not... I beg of you to consider this. Duo is depending on you. Not just now, not just while he's here, and he's irritable. That will pass. That's part of the process. But later, he will be depending on you. He will need you to be strong, and he will need you to be solid. He has told me that any misstep on his part will have repercussions on you. By the same token, any misstep on *your* part will have repercussions on Duo. He is teetering on the edge, Mr. Barton. You know better than I what is driving him right now. How many times do you think he can fall before he won't be able to get back up again?

"I care for Duo. He's my patient, and I have had few patients over the years with so much passion and intelligence. I want to see him get healthy, and live the kind of life he wants to. And right now, that means that *you* have to deal with everything that's going on inside of *your* head, too. It's a two-way street.

"I know that you've had a terrible experience with therapy, but I can assure you that Dr. Levy is not like that. He has training as both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and he has done extensive research into the root physiological causes of depression. Please take the time to research his work. I can't order you to go to see him, or anyone, but I am *begging* you to. Duo is depending on you, Trowa, and therefore so am I."

She was so earnest, so open, and so professional, that Trowa felt it would be rude not to at least take the card. He picked it up and held it in between his fingers by the edges of the card. He looked up at Dr. Mahoney warily. "I am well aware of the trust that Duo has placed in me. I have no more intention of letting him down than he does me."

"I know," Dr. Mahoney nodded, "but when our bodies fight against us, sometimes it doesn't matter what our intentions are. Duo needs to fight his addictions, and the physiological ramifications of that. You have your own fight to fight. You have no idea how bad things might get. Years down the road, there are going to be bad days, Trowa. Days in which it will be more than Duo will be able to take... and if the only reason he is even trying is because of you, that means that *you* will have to be there for him. You will have to be able to deal with him being melancholy and depressed, you will have to be able to deal with him trying to push you out of his life. I wish I could offer you a magic band-aid that will cover everything up and make it so that you two can live happily ever after, but it doesn't exist. You need to face these problems.

"I know that I am overstepping my bounds, and that I am being demanding. I also know that you want Duo to be healthy even more than I do. This is what you need to do to make sure that that happens. That is not a suggestion or a theory. That is a fact."

Trowa sullenly did not respond, but he took the card into the palm of his hand, and looked down at his hand in a gesture that was sure to act as a white flag of defeat.

Dr. Mahoney stood up and sighed. "I'm sorry to come down so hard on you. It isn't my desire to be a hard-ass. It's just part of the job sometimes." She smiled weakly at him, shrugging with one shoulder in a form of apology.

Trowa stood up, and reached out to shake her hand. "Thank you."

He spoke firmly and distinctly, and she appeared to understand. She shook his hand firmly, and grinned. "Now I have a patient to harass. Have a pleasant day."

He nodded, inclining his head to her. He watched her walk away, back to the row of rooms for therapy sessions. He put his hands in his pockets, releasing the card inside the pocket. He had asked Duo several times over the course of his time here what his sessions were like, but he never got a clear answer, and so now when he tried to picture it, he could only nebulously imagine what Duo was going through.

He tried to imagine himself going through that process, but he couldn't quite fathom it. There were too many unknowns and variables to consider.

He got into his car, and drove away, speeding down the roads as if he were on the expressway. He drove around for a long time, thinking absently at one point about getting something to eat, and then deciding he would have a peanut butter sandwich when he got home.

It wasn't a total shock when he ended up parked in the university's lot, but he hadn't consciously chosen it, either, to his recollection. He walked to the library, keeping his head down so that he wouldn't glare at any of the students passing by. The library was massive, and complex. It defied logical interpretation, seemingly architecturally designed to repel casual purveyors of knowledge. Trowa poked at the keys on a reference workstation computer for a long time before he was able to trick it into giving him the information that he desired.

Ultimately, he had to walk to the psychology library, which entailed asking *twice* for directions, as the maps were cleverly designed to only appear as if they had information about the location of university buildings.

He was quite perturbed, and feeling the burning fire of quest stirring in his belly. Before he left, he would have the information he came for, or else there would be a serious cost to those who stood in his way.

The girl at the psychology library counter was nice, and let him in despite the fact that his badge wasn't really enough to grant him access. She warned him fearfully that he wouldn't be able to check any materials out, though, but Trowa was not deterred by that paltry obstacle.

The library was more the sort of library one found in the homes of the rich, and not what Trowa traditionally thought of as a library. It was a small room filled to overflowing with shelves for books and journals, and each shelf was marked a bit too discreetly with a small white tag with reference numbers on it. From his search in the main library, Trowa had the call numbers for the journal he needed, but it still took some searching to find it on the shelf.

Dr. Levy had three articles published in The Journal of Modern Psychology, all in the last six years. Trowa wasn't sure what kind of journal this was, whether it was as prestigious as the journal on the shelf next to it, Earthsphere Journal of Practicing Psychology, or if it had some sort of focus. Trowa only had the vaguest of ideas of how scientific journals worked at all, and he examined the numbers on his piece of paper against the numbers on the bindings of the journals for a long time before he committed to taking one down off the shelf.

The articles were there, just as the computer in the main library had promised, the level of organization involved in directing him from there to here mundanely staggering. Operating the copy machine should not have been difficult, but Trowa was already aware from his work in the lab that academic copiers were quite fussy about how they would work. He had to purchase a card that was worth ten times as much as the amount of copying that he had to do, because that was the smallest bill he had.

As he left the library with his small stack of sheets, he handed the copy card to the girl at the desk, flashing a nervous smile as he did.

She stared at his back as he left in a mixture of horror and shock.

~*~

He didn't go to the park that night. The man's words still lingered. He sat in his apartment, and read the articles by Dr. Levy. He had become curious about certain neurophysiological facts that were mentioned in the articles, so he spent most of the time researching online.

He fell asleep on the couch, and was a half an hour late for work. His boss didn't mind, but that made him fifteen minutes late for Duo.

He stayed in his car after turning off the engine, just taking a moment to put away his sunglasses, even though he hadn't worn them, and to listen to the end of a song that he hated. He was just about to open the car door when he looked out the window.

A man was walking by, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the windows of the treatment center. Trowa's eyes widened, and he felt his throat constrict.

He panicked, and instead of following Heero, he dashed inside the treatment center, running past the receptionist without a glance. She tried to call out to him, but he was already in the multipurpose room before she could stand up.

Duo was sitting on the couch like always, looking up at Trowa with judgmental surprise.

Trowa felt his heart pounding in his chest, and the adrenaline from the panic washed through him. For a moment, his vision was narrowed to Duo, and the way he defensively sat on the couch. He didn't move any closer, and he didn't say anything. He looked at Duo as if he could do a complete medical examine from five feet away with just his eyes.

"Mr. Barton!"

He turned, dazed, to face the receptionist.

She tried to smile, and held out a badge. "You forgot your visitor's badge."

Trowa stared at the badge blankly, only realizing that he needed to take it when she didn't withdraw her offer. She smiled and walked back to her desk, and Trowa continued to stare at it.

"Are you all right?" Duo asked, his voice laced with real concern.

Trowa broke out of his reverie, and sat down next to Duo. He clipped the visitor's badge to his collar. "Sorry. I'm having an odd day. I'm sorry that I'm late."

"You don't have to come every day, you know," Duo replied too quickly, ducking his chin behind his knees. "I know you have other things to do."

"Not really," Trowa shrugged.

Duo bit his lip, and lowered his face even further below his knees.

"Has Heero visited you often?" Trowa knew that he sounded harsh and abrupt, but his heart was still hammering in his chest.

Duo's eyes widened, and he lifted his head unconsciously. "What? What do you mean? Heero hasn't been here. The only person I've seen is you."

Trowa nodded, digesting. Of course Heero would never walk in the front door; that was too common for Mr. Heero Freakin' Better Than Everyone Yuy.

"Let's go outside." Duo stood up, brushing his palms over his thighs, looking away from Trowa. "I'm sick of being cooped up."

Trowa nodded, and followed. It was a chilly day, with no sun, as dark clouds promised rain in the near future. They walked out to the bench they had sat on the first day Trowa had visited, and sat down. Duo scooted over a few inches when Trowa sat down close enough to him for their hands to brush against each other as they rested on the bench. After a moment of fidgeting and holding his elbows, Duo shot up, and started to walk around the area near the bench.

"Don't you get tired of coming here? You've got a new job, and things are going well... Isn't this just depressing for you? Don't you have better things to do with your time?"

Trowa ignored the biting edge to Duo's voice. He'd be irritable if he had been locked up for this long, too. "No."

Duo rolled his eyes. "That's just pathetic."

Trowa shrugged.

Duo got a bit discombobulated. "Why - Why would you think that Heero has been here? Do you think I want to see him? Do you think I've been going behind your back? Because I'm not going to justify myself to you. I think I've done more than enough to prove myself to you, I don't think I need to put up with any kind of complaints as well. It's not right."

"No." Trowa furrowed his brow, trying to figure out which question or statement he was responding to, or whether Duo knew or cared.

"I'm doing everything I can. Hell, I'm doing more than I can, and all you have to do all day is sit on your ass and be judgmental, and I don't think I need to put up with that shit, so maybe - maybe you should just go, maybe I don't want to see you again."

"No." Trowa scowled, and crossed his arms over his chest.

Duo turned to him, his distress plainly written across his face. "Why? Why? Why would you put up with me, and all my crap? Why would you sit there and listen to me being such a jerk, and then come again the next day? Why don't you have enough - enough self-respect to just dump me and all my crazy shit and just be done with it?"

Trowa blinked. "I think I love you."

Duo stared at him. He snorted hollowly. "So what I am so afraid of?"

Trowa smiled at his joke. Duo plopped down on the bench, very close to Trowa, and sighed. He reached out deliberately, and took Trowa's hand. There was a spark when their skin touched, Trowa's muscles twinging, and he closed his hand around Duo's.

Duo allowed it. "Damn, Tro. What you do to me."

Trowa traced his fingers delicately over the hand in his, cradling Duo's hand in his two hands. "I keep telling you, Duo. Ditto."

Duo sighed, and his shoulders slumped. He leaned forward until his forehead was almost touching Trowa's shoulder. "I just... I can't... It's just..."

Bringing Duo's hands to his lips, Trowa kissed Duo's knuckles slowly. He let the warmth from his mouth touch Duo's skin.

Duo watched him. "I was eight years old when I held my soul mate in my arms while he died." Duo's voice was quiet and heavy. "The only people who were ever parents to me died to protect me. I fell in love with a boy in the war, and he grew up to hate me. I don't think I can say that I love you, and mean it. Not yet. But..." He put his head down on Trowa's shoulder, and squeezed Trowa's hand. "I can say for damn sure, there isn't anybody else I would go through this shit for. There isn't anyone else I want to be with. It's just so fuckin' hard, Tro..."

Duo squeezed his eyes shut, taking long, deep breaths, choking on what he was feeling. Trowa put his arms around Duo, and put his chin on the top of Duo's head. He stroked his hands up and down Duo's arms, and pulled Duo in tighter, rubbing their cheeks together, and putting his face in the crook of Duo's neck. He sighed, suddenly overwhelmed by the scent that he had gotten used to getting up to, and he kissed Duo's neck, his chin, his temple, and his cheek, with as much passion as he could corral. He ran his fingers over Duo's face, and sighed. "I know, Duo. I wish I could make it easier..."

Duo shook his head. "Can't. Not how it works."

"I know," Trowa sighed. "But the way it works sucks."

"Yeah," Duo laughed humorlessly. "When isn't that true?"

Trowa half-smiled, and tenderly ran his thumb down Duo's cheek.

Duo sighed. "I wish that you could have fallen in love with someone better than me. Like Fei or something...Why did you have to fall for a loser like me?"

Trowa shook his head. "From where I'm sitting, I got pretty lucky."

"You need a new seat, Tro." Duo shook his head, shivering as he pulled away.

Trowa stood up. "You're cold. Let's go back inside."

Duo stood up, looking away, distracted. "If only life were that easy. You're cold, so you go inside, or put on a sweater. You're hungry, so you eat. You're tired, so you sleep.

"You're broken inside. Then what? I just feel shattered."

Trowa nodded. "I don't know. I guess you pick up all the pieces, and you cut up your fingers on the jagged edges, and you start over again with your collection of bloody, jagged pieces."

Duo responded slowly, his face relaxing and then brightening to a hesitant smile. When he started to laugh, it was the best thing that Trowa had heard in his life. "You really are an untapped fountain of wisdom, aren't you, Tro? If only the academic world could learn of your teachings..."

Trowa shook his head sadly. "The world is not ready for me, I'm afraid. They run in terror from my white-hot genius."

Duo laughed harder, and they had to stop in the path so that he could get it all out. There were tears running down his face, and he was getting hysterical, but it was still symphonically gorgeous to Trowa.

Trowa ran his hands down Duo's back in what could have been a comforting gesture, splaying his fingers out to increase the area of his touch. Duo was shaking, his braid trailing on the ground as his back heaved. Duo put his arms around his waist, and let Trowa help him stand up straight.

"Oh god! That shouldn't be that funny!"

Trowa slid his arm more firmly behind Duo's back. "It isn't."

Duo turned to face Trowa, still smiling and laughing. "But you are funny, Tro."

Trowa lifted his chin. "Of course. I'm a clown."

Duo's expression warmed. "Yeah. The clown with a tear rolling down his cheek." He leaned up and kissed Trowa on the cheek. "Thanks."

Trowa shrugged, embarrassed. "Forget about it."

Duo shook his head slowly. "Nope. I'm taking this with me to bed tonight. Hey do you still never masturbate?"

They were standing right in front of the door to go inside, and the wind was starting to really blow, but they came to a standstill while Trowa considered Duo's question. "I almost did, once. When I was thinking of your hair."

Duo nodded, then put his arms around Trowa's neck, pulling himself into a hug. Duo's body was cold and thin, too thin, and Trowa did not want to release him. Duo's lips trailed over his cheek as he pulled away, and he grinned at Trowa. "I think about you all night. And most of the day."

Trowa tilted his head to the side. "That's almost all the time."

"Maybe this will get easier once we can spend more time together," Duo suggested weakly.

Trowa put his hands on Duo's face. "I know it will be easier for me."

Duo sighed, and nodded. "Damn. I just keep dragging you further and further down, don't I?"

Trowa opened the door, holding it open for Duo. He ruffled the top of Duo's head as he followed him inside. "You just don't know up from down anymore. Don't worry about me. I'm ok."

"Are you?" Duo looked over his shoulder, hiding his face except for his eyes. "You don't look like you're getting much sleep."

Trowa shrugged, his body tensing. "I'm ok."

Duo watched him from behind his shoulder for a minute, and sighed. "You'd better be, Tro. I'm not going through all of this for a bloody corpse, ya know."

Trowa nodded, swallowing hard.

Duo grinned at him. He kissed Trowa quickly, touching him with only his lips. "So, I guess you're coming back tomorrow then, eh?"

"Count on it."

Duo shrugged. "I am."

Trowa watched him go down to his session, his arms crossed over his stomach and his braid swinging back and forth. His head was swimming, and his legs felt rubbery.

He drove back to the apartment slowly, getting honked at from the car behind him more than once for lollygagging. Once he got back, the only thing he would be able to do was think, and he wasn't sure that his head was up to it.

~*~

He sat on the couch, staring at the newspaper on the coffee table. There was glaring sunlight pouring in through the window, and he wished that he had closed the curtains before he had sat down, or, failing that, as he had, he wished that there was a remote for the curtains.

He needed to find an apartment. He had just paid the rent, and it nearly wiped out his bank account. He hadn't realized that his savings were so nonexistent. He looked up and down the confusingly small columns of ads for apartments, and tried to make sense of the acronyms and jargon.

It occurred to him that if he called Cathy and told her that his income had been drastically reduced, she would help him, but so far he had only emailed her since their trip to the beach, and he felt irrationally that she would know what he had done at the beach without being told.

She knew him better than he usually admitted.

There was a place he thought might be good. It sounded innocuous in the ad, and he knew the neighborhood. It certainly wasn't great, but he had been to worse, so he wasn't too worried. Also, he was fairly sure he could visualize the corner in his mind, and he didn't think it was the kind of neighborhood that had shops, so there wouldn't be any liquor stores.

He didn't know why he was hesitating to call. He should pick up the handheld and make the call. It was the only thing to do. He could see the place that afternoon, and hopefully move, and maybe get comped on the rent. Maybe he could sublease the place, and get some income that way, too.

The card Dr. Mahoney had given him was on the coffee table as well, sitting askew next to the open paper. Duo had been very anxious earlier, asking him about money and his sleeping patterns and how much he was eating. Duo's hands had been grasping his braid like a lifeline, and his eyes had been sunken and shadowed.

He should call. He needed to. Procrastinating was only going to make things worse.

He picked up the handheld, staring down at it. He had only dug this out of the box last week, when Sally had called asking about Duo. He didn't want to return her call and not stand in front of the camera, but he also hadn't wanted to actually see her. It was still a bit of a mystery to him, as they tried to cram all the functions of the full 'phone into this small handheld device that looked a little bit too much like a universal remote for Trowa's tastes.

He opened the menu for dialing, and put in the digits. He stared at the phone for a second before seeing the 'send' prompt. When he heard it dialing, he brought it up to his ear.

The ringing was unnaturally loud, but he didn't pull it away. It cut into his ears, piercing him so that he still heard the echo of the ringing after his call had been answered.

"Dr. Levy's office, how may I help you?"

Trowa blinked. He looked down at the newspaper in confusion.

"Sir?"

Trowa swallowed. "I was referred to Dr. Levy by Dr. Mahoney."

"Your name?"

"Barton, Trowa."

There was the sound of typing, and Trowa waited patiently. "Ah yes, Mr. Barton. We have a notation here. Dr. Levy has accepted the referral, so I can set up an appointment. We have openings in the morning and late afternoon tomorrow."

Trowa hadn't expected it to be so easy, or so soon. He wondered what Dr. Mahoney had said to this person. "Afternoon."

"Very good. We have you scheduled for 4:45 pm tomorrow, then."

"Ah, wait," Trowa looked around at the coffee table, wondering if he should have something to write with, "where are your offices?"

"We're located on the fifth floor of St. Luke's Hospital. You go up the green elevator, take a left, go past the vending area, and turn right following the yellow arrows. There is a general reception area marked as Returning Patients, and you sign in under Dr. Levy. We have a notation that your insurance has lapsed, and that your bill will be attached to an outpatient recovery bill, is that correct? Because otherwise I'll need your proof of insurance."

Trowa blinked. "No, I have no insurance. How much does this cost?"

"Well, let me put it this way, hon, we only get patients with insurance. But don't fret, if you don't want your bill forwarded, we can deal with that, too. You just need to come to the hospital about an hour to an hour and a half earlier and speak to our financial aide department. There are new laws covering mental health, so if you have no insurance, you might be able to get temporary coverage from the Medical Relief Act of AC 201."

Trowa nodded, and then realized that she couldn't see him. "Thank you."

"Don't think of it," she replied, and Trowa could hear her smile. "Have a nice day."

He disconnected the line, and stared at the phone for long minutes, trying to figure out how it had betrayed him.

~*~

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