Rattlesnakes + Part 3 (cont)

~*~

Trowa disliked the lamp in his living room intensely. It had been on sale, and economy had dictated its purchase, but it had a red base, and Trowa disliked red. It also had tassels hanging from its shade. It was hideous.

It did, however, provide an excuse to keep the lights in the living room off, as it only compounded its sins of existence when it was turned on. Tonight was strange, though. Trowa had felt oddly energized ever since Duo had exposed himself, and so he was sitting on his couch, attempting to put some buttons on a couple of shirts that had lost them. The shirts had been in a pile in the back of his closet for months now, but it was a way to occupy his fingers and keep his mind from getting too distracted.

He turned the tv on, and despite the fact that he couldn't find anything worth watching, he left it on. It was on the station that showed what was on all the other stations, cycling through the list of programs with cheery jazz music as accompaniment. He pulled the thread through the cloth slowly, careful of his fingers as he did, taking such precise care that each button was taking up to a half and hour to sew onto the shirt again.

Trowa didn't like to use scissors frivolously, so he just tore the thread with his teeth, which made it awfully difficult to thread the needle. He found the almost impossible task of slipping a frayed thread through the narrow opening of the needle soothing in a headache-inducing way.

When the vidphone rang, he poked his finger with the needle. He was so vexed with the tiny prick of blood, he let the 'phone ring nine times before he answered it.

He stood next to the phone, and leaned over a little. He was still out of the line of sight of the camera, but he could see the screen a bit.

"Trowa?"

"Hello, Catherine." Catherine smiled at the sound of his voice. "Trowa! You sound well. How are you?"

Trowa rubbed his hand over his forearm slowly. "Sure, fine. You?"

Catherine nearly bounced in her seat with excitement. "Oh, I'm fine! You know the circus life... Something new every day, and more trouble in a day than a sane person can deal with in a week. It's great!"

Trowa lowered his head, half of him feeling the urge to smile. "That's good." He spoke too softly for the microphone to pick it up, so Catherine barreled onward.

"Sasha has a new cat. She's been too involved with acclimating the other cats to do most of her chores. Everyone's been really supportive, though, and helping out. Even the ringmaster!"

Trowa nodded, his throat a little too choked up for him to speak. He missed the cats and other animals second to only Catherine. Sasha had been hired to take Trowa's place in the circus; he had never met her, nor did he ever hope to do so.

He let her chat on happily about the circus, the new guy she was training for her knife throwing act, the new acrobat, and the last time she had tried to go out with the girls for a few drinks.

Her voice was hardly soothing, but Trowa found himself getting tired from listening to her. His head dipped rhythmically. He felt a little like he was having a pleasant dream, and the effect was so hypnotic, he never even thought to interrupt her.

Catherine was so excited to be able to talk to her 'brother' for more than five minutes, she barely even noticed that he wasn't talking back to her. Trowa was waiting for when she would ask him about therapy, like waiting for the dream to pick up the recurring thread of a nightmare. But she kept talking, sometimes betraying sense of nervousness, and sometimes sounding perfectly happy to babble on endlessly.

"Oh, Trowa, I nearly forgot!" He lifted his head, waiting for the pendulum to swing the other way. "Remember Kat and Vic? And the circus they were forming? Well, it's really taking off, and they are going to be setting up near you soon! I think they are putting up the tents this weekend at the... wait, let me check... damn, I had it here a minute ago... something like Janeyes Fairgrounds... no, wait, here it is... Jamesay Fairgrounds. That's close to you now, right?"

Trowa inched his face around the edge a little more, so he could see Catherine better. "Yeah." He spoke exactly loudly enough so that he could be heard.

Catherine smiled broadly. "Great! You should visit them! I know they'd love to see you. Everyone misses you so much. You should call sometime..."

Feeling a little of the bitterness that often overtook him when talking to Catherine, Trowa retreated to the wall, leaning back until he was sitting on the floor. He let Catherine talk for another few minutes before he cut her off.

"I'm really tired, Catherine."

"Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't realize... and I've just been going on and on... Sorry! Well... sleep well, Trowa." She sounded desperately hopeful.

He thought that he should probably feel a bit guilty for that, but he couldn't. "'Night." He turned the 'phone off from the floor quickly.

Sitting there, the living room suddenly felt inordinately bright. It was like moving through cement, getting on his feet and turning off the light. He left the pile of shirts where they were. Perhaps in the morning he would feel like tackling them again.

He showered quickly, washing his hair mechanically. He forgot to shave, which irritated him when he was dressing for the night, but not enough to bother doing anything about it.

Just as he was about to get into bed, he thought about asking Duo to go with him to the circus. That thought was immediately followed by the hope that Duo didn't already have plans with Heero.

He then felt too weary for bed, so he sat in the window to watch the night in the alley.

It was a source of constant vexation to him that there weren't even a single alley cat or rat in his neighborhood.

~*~

Saturday almost didn't exist for Trowa. He moved in such painful slowness through the day that each moment stretched out to the point of tearing apart. His limbs felt like they were weighted down, and when he moved from room to room, it was like walking through water.

At some point, he fell into bed, and once there, he came to the conclusion that since he was planning on being in bed again later in the day, it would be more efficient to stay in bed. He didn't sleep, actually, but he found some strange relaxation in being immobile with soft, cottony sheets enwrapping him. For hours on end, he would rub his cheek against his pillow, and watch his hair fan out around his forehead.

When the 'phone rang, he wasn't even sure what day it was. He was pretty sure he didn't want to get out of bed, but it kept ringing and ringing and ringing... It was easier to get out of bed then to try to pretend he wasn't hearing it.

Quatre wasn't usually so insistent, and Catherine had just called. Suspicious, Trowa clicked the 'phone on from the side, and stood carefully out of view, only barely able to see the screen himself.

"Trowa? Ya there, man? Damn it, Trowa, get in front of the 'phone!"

Trowa grinned to himself. Duo certainly had a way with language. "Yeah."

Duo glared at the screen, waiting not so patiently for Trowa to appear. "Finally. I forgot who was going to call who. So, didja still wanna do something today?"

Trowa blinked twice. "There's a circus setting up out of town. We can take a train out, check it out. I know the people who run it."

Duo just stared blankly at the screen for a moment before reacting. "Um, great. 'Cept, let's not be at the mercy of a train schedule. I can get a ride; meet you at yours in an hour?"

"You have a car?"

"I have access to a car."

"You aren't going to steal one, are you?" Trowa didn't really distrust Duo, but it was better to be very clear in situations involving felonies.

"Relax, Trowa. You'll be ready?"

Trowa nodded slowly, not really sure what he was responding to, watching as Duo smiled at him. He turned off the 'phone quickly before Duo's smile reached the stunning point. It was still too early in what was apparently a day for him to be stunned.

~~

Trowa went down to the lobby five minutes after Duo said he would be there. He wasn't doing anything else. He combed his hair until he got bored of the repetitive motion, and then he straightened his shirt, then he stood in the kitchen with his refrigerator door open, trying to determine if he had anything in there he might bring along for the trip.

He ambled down the stairs, checking seven times to be sure that he had his keys. When he got to the door, he was annoyed that he hadn't thought to ask Duo what kind of car he would have.

It wasn't really an issue, though, as Duo was right outside the door, standing next to his car, carelessly, ignoring everyone's dirty looks. Trowa shook his head once. He hated it when people double-parked.

The car was sedate, and silver. This seemed so utterly incongruous to Trowa that for a moment, he doubted his eyesight. It was an ordinary, slightly classy, four-door sedan. And it was silver. There was no way this was Duo's car.

"You ready to go?" Trowa never liked it when people started trips like that. Of course he was ready to go; otherwise, he would still be in his apartment.

He walked to the passenger door, waiting resignedly for Duo to move so he could get in. Duo chuckled, his eyes lowered. He had on sunglasses, which Trowa found disconcerting, as if he had lost his internal compass, and he no longer could find his balance. Duo opened the door gentlemanly, exaggerating his gestures as he made room for Trowa to slip into the passenger seat.

The seats were leather. This upset Trowa on an aesthetic level. They were too plush for his image of a road trip with Duo. The whole day was not working out as he had visualized it, and it made him feel like he was intruding somehow on Duo's time.

Duo popped into the car quickly. He didn't bother to buckle up before he put the car into gear and sped off, edging his way into traffic aggressively. Making his way quickly to the expressway, he chattered at Trowa until they were both at ease enough for some quiet.

Trowa watched as Duo buckled up as he merged into the expressway. Traffic was heavy, the weekend warriors off on their carefully planned adventures were keeping the expressway filled, but traffic was moving, and it wasn't long before Duo was in the far left lane, driving with traffic nearly thirty miles per hour over the speed limit.

Trowa watched Duo from the periphery of his vision as his eyes blurred over the road and the city whizzing by in ribbons and dizzying panoramas. It was gritty and dirty, but still, Trowa loved the view. Traveling always gave him a sense of place, as if the mile markers and landmarks could position him more definitively.

Duo seemed comfortable behind the wheel. It wasn't a surprise to Trowa that he could handle the stick like a racecar driver, shifting so seamlessly that it felt to Trowa like the car was an automatic. Duo wasn't even paying that much attention; he drove as if the car were an extension of his arms, his eyes darting around and his finger tapping on the wheel in time with the music from the radio. His body was relaxed, almost lounging.

Trowa envied Duo's ease, without bitterness, which was a new enough sensation for Trowa to enjoy wallowing in it for a while. He was skilled, an excellent pilot and driver, but it was something that he had been taught, something that he worked at; if he were to get in the cockpit of a plane today, it would take some work for him to get comfortable again. But Duo was more instinctive in his skills.

It was a little infuriating, but Trowa found that he could admire it as well.

When the buildings started to thin out, and they moved into the less crowded areas of the sprawling suburbs, Trowa decided to initiate a discussion, for curiosity's sake.

"Where'd you get the car?" Trowa detected a hint of derision in his voice, but he wasn't at all sure what the source of it might be, so he ignored it.

"Oh. It's Heero's." Duo smiled, shrugging so nonchalantly, it might have been passed off as nothing.

"Heero's? " Trowa dubiously considered the door, contemplating the possibility of simply leaving.

Duo laughed, low in his chest. "Yeah, don't worry. He doesn't use it."

Trowa frowned, the look of displeasure appearing to flirt with his lips as they curved downwards. "I didn't realize you were borrowing the car from him."

"Ah, borrow... yeah. Well, like I said, he won't be missing it, since he doesn't use it. Ever." Duo bounced in his seat a little, turning his face so he could see Trowa better. "It was a gift from Relena, actually, for their engagement. It was a big deal. But Heero prefers to use a motorcycle, or a sports car. Or any other form of transportation not gifted to him by his bride-to-never-be." Duo chuckled merrily at his own joke.

Trowa became pensive. "You didn't... did you steal this?" He looked at the steering wheel. He blinked. "Duo... how did you start the car with no key?"

Duo laughed loudly, his eyes crinkled and his cheeks brightened. "Oh, please! That's not hard! What's hard is navigating out of the private garage Relena has the car stored in. Man, I hate those corkscrew ramps in those parking garages! And damn! How many limos can one person have anyway? At least she doesn't still make 'em paint them pink." Duo shuddered, his shoulders shaking and his head quivering.

Trowa examined the dash evenly. He wasn't sure how to react to this news, and he hoped to find an answer in the smooth leather and fake wood of the dash. Duo had stolen Heero's car, and he had to get it out of one of Relena's private garages to do so.

Actually, it was kind of funny, but he felt too attached to his indignation to appreciate the humor at this juncture.

Perhaps later, when he was alone.

Duo made his way to the exit, and Trowa directed him to the Fairgrounds. It wasn't hard to find a place to park, since the circus was still setting up, but the number of trucks and workers made it difficult to navigate their way around.

The sun was shining brightly, and the wind was just crisp enough to make it a perfect fall day. Trowa kept his hands in his pocket. He felt just a little nervous. He hadn't seen Kat and Vic since before he had been in the hospital. He didn't know what they knew, but given the way gossip seeped through circus folk, Trowa was pretty sure they had heard something, and that whatever they had heard would only bear the most passing relationship to the truth.

It made his steps heavier, to face this.

Duo, on the other hand, was loafing happily through the fairgrounds, his braid swinging behind him as he walked. He wasn't trying to make conversation, but he was keeping pace with Trowa, entertaining himself by gawking at the work being done to get the circus and fairway ready.

Trowa felt a soothing sensation as he watched Duo. He was glad he had asked the other man to join him; Duo would make the reunion pass smoothly, Trowa could just feel it. Duo had that way about him. People liked him. It was some combination of his looks, his charm, and his wit. He could make any social situation pass more smoothly.

Duo was wearing a faded denim shirt over a black t-shirt, and black jeans. The t-shirt was loose, with a wide neck, and the denim shirt flared open as Duo moved. Trowa watched Duo's neck from the corner of his eye. It was actually fairly rare for Duo to expose his neck, as he usually had a penchant for turtlenecks or jackets that buttoned or zipped up right to his neck. But from therapy, Trowa had become familiar with Duo's neck, and that line right behind the ear where Duo was particularly sensitive, which was now being exposed as his braid was veering to the other side, giving Trowa a good view of the landscape.

Trowa stubbed his toe on a rock, and bit the inside of lip, cursing himself silently as he forced his gaze to the grass in front of him.

Kat and Vic were in the ringmaster's trailer, going over the books in preparation for the opening. It felt a bit odd walking into the ringmaster's trailer, and not finding the ringmaster Trowa knew. Kat had grown her hair out since Trowa had last seen her, and it made him feel uncomfortable, as if it were a sign that too much time had passed. Vic was wearing a t-shirt with the circus' slogan emblazoned across the front, and it made him look a little silly, an older man in a younger man's clothes.

"Trowa!" Kat jumped off the desk and threw her arms around Trowa's neck, swinging him around a little as she hugged him. "God, you look great! It's been so long!"

"Trowa." Vic had always been more reserved than the average circus performer, and Trowa respected that immensely. He nodded at Vic tightly, forcing a smile onto his face as he did. "It's good to see you."

"And who is this?" Kat kept an arm around Trowa's neck as she turned to Duo. "Do you have a boyfriend, Tro?"

Duo laughed, his shoulders relaxed as he waved with one friendly gesture, his fore and middle fingers extended. "Hey. Name's Duo, and Tro and I go way back."

"A friend of Trowa's is a friend of ours," Vic declared solemnly, though still managing to be warm. "Well, have you had a chance to look around? What do you think of our circus?"

"Vic and I are so excited to have a former performer here," Kat interrupted anything Trowa might have said quickly. "No one else really has been able to get away from their own stuff to see us. We've been working really hard, recruiting some great people, we've had to train a lot of people, but they've been coming along great and everyone here is really pulling their weight..."

"Kat." Trowa stopped her with a low, insistent tone. "Everything looks great."

"You guys will wanna catch up." Duo scratched the back of his head broadly. "I can go..."

Trowa's eyes became wild, begging Duo not to move an inch, but fortunately, he didn't have to say anything, because Vic came around his desk and threw his arm around Duo's shoulder.

"Nonsense, m'boy! Come, sit, talk! Trowa is too quiet to satisfy Kat's curiosity; you will need to help up translate his many blank stares."

Duo laughed, blushing slightly from Vic's immediately intimate nature. There was a hesitancy in his body language that took Trowa a long time to interpret. It was halfway through Duo's story about the time he got sea sick on a tourist boat because of the five-year-old jumping on his bench that Trowa figured out what was making Duo so twitchy; Vic and Kat were assuming that Duo was his lover.

Trowa wasn't sure exactly why that made Duo nervous, and he didn't understand how it made him feel that Duo was nervous about that, but he did have a sense of relief that he had figured it out.

Kat and Vic took to Duo like kittens to other kittens. After they had traded a few stories and dissected the latest storyline in whatever television show they were talking about, Trowa began to feel like he was the outsider in the group, a feeling that was so commonplace to him, it almost made him feel more comfortable. He watched Duo talk to Kat and Vic, his hands moving through the air uselessly and head bouncing as he spoke, making his braid twitch, and he imagined that Duo was his lover, and that he was introducing him to distant cousins. It would be much like this – Trowa sitting back as Duo worked to impress his lover's relatives, no matter how distantly they were related. It wasn't even difficult to cast Duo in the role of his lover, as the taste of Duo's flesh filled his mouth until he felt like he was going to have to swallow.

Trowa leaned back in his folding chair, smiling gently.

Kat was watching Trowa as much as she was watching Duo. Trowa could feel her eyes on him, but he ignored them. The similarity to Catherine's eyes on him was passing enough for him to have the sense of familiarity divorced from any sense of responsibility; he pretended not to notice as she surreptitiously eyed his arms.

Twice during their conversation, they were interrupted by circus business, and when the third panicked knock to the door halted the flow of chatter, Vic reluctantly admitted that they had a lot of work to do; the circus was opening on Wednesday and they both had long to do lists still depressingly full. Duo stood up rapidly upon this declaration, his nervousness covered only partially by his smile.

"We certainly don't want to keep you from your work, right?" Duo looked at Trowa hopefully, taking a half a step toward the door as he spoke.

Trowa shrugged, noncommittally. "Good luck with your run. We'll come up later, if we can." Trowa didn't look at Duo as he said 'we,' speaking so casually he trusted it would be easily interpreted any way that Duo wanted.

Kat grinned from ear to ear. "You should feel free to roam around, entertain yourselves. A lot of our people are off today, the performers that is, while they set up the midway. In fact," she winked at Trowa, "if you wanted to get a bit of a workout, the main tent is all set up and tested out. The practice net is up, even, so you could see how you like our arrangements, and maybe try to work on getting some muscle 0back on those bones of yours."

Trowa didn't smile, but his eyes cleared. "All right."

Duo looked from one person to the other, not really sure what was going on, but not really looking to extend his time in the trailer either. He shook Vic's hand, and let Kat hug him, and blushed as she teased him about letting himself get saddled with a guy like Trowa.

Vic put his hand on Trowa's shoulder, squeezing tightly enough to make Trowa want to wince. "We're glad to see you, Trowa, and be able to spend this time with you. Remember that, won't you?"

Trowa ducked his head in what could have been an affirmative, his eyes closed as he pulled away from Vic's grip. Kat grabbed him into a hug, holding on for much longer than Trowa was happy with, her body trembling a little. Trowa was getting concerned when suddenly Kat was speaking to him, too quietly for anyone else to hear.

"For the love of all that is good and holy, Trowa, don't ever scare us like that again, please?"

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