Rattlesnakes + Part 3 (cont)

The embarrassment threatened to choke Trowa to death. He extricated himself from her embrace gently but quickly, keeping his eyes down as he exited the trailer, heading determinedly into the direction his head was pointing as he walked out the door.

He could hear Duo calling out goodbyes, but he wasn't waiting for the other man. He watched the grass under his feet as he moved away from them, Kat's words haunting him. The smell of blood taunted him, and he felt a little lightheaded. The sunlight seemed unnaturally bright, reminding him of his blood soaking into his hair as he stared in to the bare bulb over the mirror over the sink.

"Hey! Hey, Trowa!" Duo ran to catch up to Trowa, scowling. "Trowa, damn it, where the hell are you going?"

Trowa stopped so abruptly that Duo passed him before he was able to stop. He kept his eyes down. The grass was thick and a deep, healthy green, but it had been trampled enough already that it was limp. Trowa imagined what it would be like after all the people visiting the circus were done stomping over it. He preferred it when the circus visited the colonies; the grass in the colonies was engineered to be more resilient than the naturally occurring grass on Earth.

"Mind if I have a smoke while you brood?" Duo sounded irritated, which Trowa would have felt guilty about if he could have.

Duo pulled out the cigarettes from his back pocket, tapping the packet impatiently against his thigh for a minute. He expertly pulled out a cigarette with his teeth, shoving the pack away quickly as he fished for his lighter. In the wide-open space of the great outdoors, the smell of cloves was so diluted that Trowa could only detect the trace of it. Duo sucked on the end of the cigarette like he was taking the first breath in open air after coming in from a space walk. He blew the air out slowly through his teeth, and the trails of smoke lingered and wound around each other as they wafted away.

It was calming even to watch it.

"Sorry." Trowa didn't sound the least bit apologetic, which was only natural, given he didn't feel the least bit apologetic, but he thought it was the proper place to start.

"Right." Duo rolled his eyes, taking another long drag. "Never mind. I know how you feel."

Trowa watched Duo as the other man pointedly didn't look at him for a moment, analyzing the veracity of his statement coldly. All the tension had bled out of Duo's body, and he seemed so disconnected to anything around him that Trowa had a hard time not believing him.

"Anyway, no harm done." Duo took another drag, a short one, and met Trowa's eyes. "Your friends are nice."

Trowa nodded slowly, feeling his agreement seep through his skin.

Duo grinned. "Vic is kinda hot, in an old guy sorta way."

Trowa's _expression lightened humorously, shaking his head. "He used to be a woman."

Duo actually did a double take. "No! Not seriously!"

Trowa nodded emphatically, grinning cryptically from under his bangs. "Damn! Those surgeries get better and better all the time!"

Trowa barked a quick laugh, finding Duo's shock soothing. "Yeah. Well." He indicated with his chin the direction of the main tent. "Shall we?"

Duo made an exaggerated gesture of gentlemanly deferment, allowing Trowa to precede him. They walked to the main tent unhurriedly, and for the first time that day, the sunshine didn't aggravate Trowa.

Entering the main tent of the circus was the closest thing Trowa had to understanding a religious experience. The sunlight, filtered through the thick canvass of the tent, was ethereal, and the dust in the air and the sawdust on the ground was like incense. Trowa's eyes were immediately drawn to the center of the tent, and the two large poles holding up the tent, in between which was the rig for the trapeze. The landing for the trapeze was over sixty feet in the air, and the wires and the swings were like gossamer threads in the air, like the beginning of a spider web.

Duo whistled low, shoving his hands into his pocket as he walked around in ever-larger circles. "Wow. This is so much bigger from here than it is from the stands, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Trowa would have been surprised at his tone of voice, except he wasn't paying attention.

"How did you ever learn to do this stuff?" Duo watched Trowa, smirking despite himself. Trowa shrugged.

"Didn't. Just... did it." Trowa walked slowly to the ladder leading up to the trapeze. The soft crush of loose dirt and sawdust under his feet was so achingly familiar, he felt like he had been transported back in time. He regarded the ladder benevolently.

Duo came to stand next to him, not encroaching upon Trowa's space, but quietly questioning Trowa discreetly.

Trowa turned to face Duo, a small smirk hiding on his lips. "Want to fly?"

Duo watched Trowa start climbing up that ladder, just watching for a moment as Trowa gracefully went from one rung to the next. Trowa was aware of the moment when Duo started to heft his way up as well, but he kept his eyes up. He could feel it crawling up his spine, the thrill of being in the air, of being free, and he clamped down on the feeling, trying to hold it, trying to stop it.

The sound of Duo behind him only added to the tickle of thrill. He was glad that they had both dressed casually; it wasn't the same as being in tights, but given that they both had training and experience in extreme situation, Trowa didn't think it would be a problem.

He stood on the platform solidly, and the feeling that he was trying to hold onto slipped away, and filled him. He could feel the blood slushing through his veins, his heart pumping in his chest, his diaphragm heaving...

He felt more alive in this moment than he could remember feeling in a long time, and the terror that trickled under his fingers only heightened the sensation. It was a long fall from here, and he didn't want to fly alone.

The only time Quatre had come to visit him in the circus, between the wars, Trowa had tried to convince him to join him in the air. Quatre had actually laughed at the idea, before expressing disgust when he realized that Trowa was serious.

Trowa picked up the bag of chalk, and rolled it around in his hand. The routine of it soothed his jangled nerves as he mentally charted out what he was going to do up here.

"You know, Tro, when you asked me if I wanted to fly, I had something else entirely in mind. It's not nice to tease, you know." Duo winked as he got his bearing on the platform, finding it awkward to share the space.

Trowa squeezed the bag in his hand, rolling it so it was like a ball. "I know that, but I didn't realize you did."

"Ha. Wow, how far up are we, anyway?" Duo stared down at the ground, mesmerized by the vertigo.

"Fifty feet," Trowa replied calmly, "but the net is twenty-five feet down."

"Then I can't get hurt, huh?" Duo peered down, looking for the net.

Trowa shrugged. "You could easily dislocate a limb." He and Duo stared at each other for a moment. "Just stay loose, and if you fall, relax. Also... don't push it. If it's close, just let yourself fall. The net is safer than trying to hang on when the momentum is carrying you away."

Duo swallowed hard as Trowa slipped the bar off its hook. Trowa toed off his shoes, and pulled his socks off by pressing his heel onto some of the slack at his toes. Duo quickly followed suit, slipping off his denim shirt at the same time.

"It's simple, really. You'll probably wonder why you were so nervous when we're done. You swing out on this bar," Trowa held up the bar in his hand, "to the bar in the middle, called the fly bar. Now, usually there's a catcher to swing you around, but it's just the two of us, playing around. I'll go out first, get the bars swinging. You catch this bar when it comes back, and when I give the signal, you come out. And we'll just swing around until one of us... well, you... falls. Ok?"

Duo nodded slowly, obviously controlling his breathing as he stared off the edge of the platform. "Ok. You swing out, I catch the bar when it comes back, you give me the signal, and we have fun. Got it." Duo turned to face Trowa smirking. "So, you're gonna be my catcher, huh Tro?"

Trowa's lips twitched. "Don't count on it."

Abruptly, Trowa leaped off the platform, gracefully swinging out to the fly bar. Duo patiently waited on the platform, admiring Trowa's form as he moved through the air. When the bar came back, he caught it with both hands, clutching it nervously. He inched out to the edge of the platform, the bar held firmly in the palms of his hands, as he waited.

Trowa could see him at all times, a skill that was essential for any acrobatic act. Duo looked small, standing with his toes carefully lined up at the edge of the platform. Trowa wasn't thinking about Duo too much, though. The air was whooshing around him, heightening the sensation of speed as he moved.

It was all about speed. Momentum, speed, and timing. It was the purest thing that Trowa had ever experienced. The jangle of the wires as they started their pendulum dance, the feel of the air over his body, the way everything blurred around him until the only thing that was solid was the bar he was reaching for, it all coalesced in Trowa's perceptions to create the whole that was this moment, this pure, adrenaline-fueled moment of freedom.

When the swinging was just right, he gave the signal. He could feel it as much as he could see it; Duo swung out with a lot of power, and was coming in fast. He let go instinctively at the perfect moment, at the top of his swing, and was heading for the fly bar. Trowa caught the bar, and then quickly repositioned so he was hanging from his knees. Reaching out, he found Duo was in just the right place, just the right time, at just the right speed.

The slap of flesh against flesh was deafening. Trowa smiled, his eyes blazing as he met Duo's wild eyes.

They swung back, and when Trowa felt them reach the highest point of the swing, he released Duo gently, letting him fly away. They swung back and forth once more, and Duo actually winked at him when Trowa caught him.

Trowa was in the middle of a flip when he heard it. It was a small noise, but unmistakable. The burning slip of flesh over the bar, and the scream of air over a falling body.

He repositioned himself on the bar as soon as he could, quickly checking Duo's position. He could hear it before he saw it; Duo was falling fast, his braid just a streak behind him as he fell to the tent at top speed. "Duo!" Trowa jumped off the bar he was on, diving leisurely to the net.

Duo was making a noise, and at the speed Trowa was at, he couldn't distinguish what kind of noise it was exactly. His brain was working even faster than his body; he imagined Duo hitting the net at high speed, dislocating his shoulder, maybe even dislocating a vertebrae.

As soon as Trowa hit the net, he tried to move in it, getting to Duo as quickly as possible. It was hard to move in the net; the only way to do it, really, was to crawl. The net was bouncing too, swinging up and down like the tide. It felt like it was taking forever to get there, and the sound of Duo's cries invigorated his muscles to push faster and harder.

When he got to Duo, though, his whole body relaxed as he realized that Duo was actually laughing.

Duo's eyes were closed as he laughed, his arms around his waist, he was laughing so hard. His hair was all in frazzles around his face, his braid messily hanging down a hole in the net. Trowa continued to crawl to Duo's side, the *fear* draining out of him, leaving him feeling blessedly empty. Trowa got to Duo's side, and he placed one hand on the net next to Duo's shoulder, and his other hand on the net on the other side of Duo's chest, looking down on Duo, carefully assessing, making sure that Duo was, in fact, fine.

Duo was too damn fucking gorgeous for his own good.

His face was bright, his cheeks glowing as he laughed harder and harder. Trowa wanted to put his body down over Duo's, to feel Duo's humor and heat, to press his face against Duo's neck, to feel Duo against him everywhere.

Trowa gently brushed the stray hair out of Duo's face, letting his fingertips run over the edge of Duo's face lightly and slowly.

Duo's eyes opened slowly, and he looked up at Trowa with absolute delight. "That was so much fun! We have to do that again!"

Trowa didn't move for a moment, just hovering over Duo, smiling gently down at the other man. He was painfully cognizant of how close they were to each other. The memory of Duo's kiss lingered on his lips teasingly. Pulling himself away, Trowa reached out a hand. "Let's go."

Duo seemed much more sober now, and they bungled their way to the safety wire at the edge of the net slowly, holding hands.

For the next three hours, they swung like monkeys from one bar to the other, falling every so often. Duo would laugh and jump in the net each time, until Trowa was actually chucking a little too. By the end of their session, Trowa had even taught Duo how to catch, successfully grabbing Trowa twice before they fell again.

The fifteenth time they fell, Vic and Kat were waiting for them at the edge of the center ring.

"Damn, I'm gonna have to call Catherine and tell her she's been replaced!" Kat winked at Trowa, throwing her arm around Duo's shoulders. "Please tell me you've done this before. Please tell me there aren't more like that one out there!"

Duo chuckled, ducking his head down to hide his blush from Kat. "Oh, I was born in a tree, dontcha know? And Cathy can't get too upset with me... at least I don't throw knives at him." He winked at Kat, wiggling his eyebrows foolishly.

Vic shook his head. "Tro, I'm sorry, but the Totania's need to practice, so..."

Trowa shrugged, picking up their shoes and socks, which they had fortunately remembered to bring down during one of their many trips back and forth. "No problem, Vic. Thanks for letting us fly; I know it's an insurance issue."

Vic waved his hands in the air dismissively. "Bah! I know you better than that! I'm just glad you had a good time."

Kat shook Duo as they walked together. "Now, we're trusting you to keep an eye on that boy, Mr. Maxwell. He's a trouble maker and a nuisance and a conversational dead weight, but he's the only one we've got so we'd like to keep him."

"No prob, Kat. I personally think he's got a couple of handy household uses, anyway." Duo winked as he spoke, but he was obviously a little embarrassed to be continuing the misperception of the nature of their relationship.

Trowa smirked, a little unreasonably happy that Duo was willing to deceive Kat and Vic.

They were back on the expressway very shortly afterwards, and Trowa was a little surprised at how late it was. He hadn't much noticed the sun going down while he and Duo were flying. There was a suspension of something in the air between them that he couldn't place, and he wished the road would just stretch out and go on forever, so they could stay in this comfortable silence and be together in the car forever.

He nearly sighed when Duo exited the expressway.

There was a need for speech as they got closer and closer to Trowa's building, and it irritated Trowa immensely. He picked through over a dozen possibly phrases before getting bored of it, deciding to just say something instead.

"Thanks for coming with."

Duo turned to him with a smile that would have blinded him if he were looking directly at Duo's eyes. "Naw, thank you! Today was awesome, man. I've never done anything like that before... It was so cool!"

Trowa nodded, smiling loosely. "Next best thing to being in a Gundam."

"You can say that again," Duo whistled low, the depth of his agreement evident. "That moment when you first jump off, and the ropes are still slack, and then there's the pull, and you're moving like lightening... Damn, that's just fuckin' awesome."

Trowa nodded in agreement, settling in comfortably against the smooth leather of the seat. "Do you... would you like help returning the car?"

"Nah," Duo shook his head, sounding a bit regretful. "It's kinda... a one-man job, ya know? But thanks. And really..." He turned the corner to pull up in front of Trowa's building. "Thanks. Today was great."

The car slowed to a stop, and Trowa reluctantly unbuckled, getting ready to get out. When he turned to say goodbye to Duo, the other man was clearly thinking of saying something. "Well..." Trowa waited, hoping Duo was going to spit it out, because he wasn't sure how to ask him what was on his mind.

Duo's brow was furrowed. His mouth opened to speak slowly. "I'll... see you tomorrow, right, for lunch?"

Trowa nodded, almost happily.

Duo grinned. "Tell me Tro. Why didn't you kiss me?"

Trowa didn't have to ask what Duo meant. He considered the question for the first time. "I suppose I didn't want to spoil a great moment."

Duo smiled, his eyes turning inward. "Ah. Well." He leaned across the seat, and kissed Trowa on the cheek. "That would have been a shame." He winked at Trowa.

"'Night." Trowa opened the door and got out, waiting at the curb until Duo successfully pulled away.

All night long, as he watched the alley, he remembered the afternoon, pouring over every last detail in minutia, mentally reliving it until it was sealed permanently in memory.

~*~

It had been a long morning. Monday mornings always dragged on like they were being physically pulled out of the hole of the weekend, but this morning, Trowa would have preferred a refreshing bout of bloody torture to break up the tedium.

Also, his game of minesweeper was defying his dominance, and that was only making it all worse.

So, when Duo called him at 11:15 to ask him if he wanted to go to lunch, he was out of his chair before he had even hung up the phone.

They met at the corner closest to Trowa. Duo was there first, just lighting his cigarette, needing to huddle against the wind to get it lit. He sucked hard on the end of the cigarette, looking like he needed it to survive.

Trowa smiled a little before he got to Duo; it was good to know that it wasn't just his morning that was dragging.

Duo's cheeks were pinked a little, from the wind and chill most likely, but the tiny splotches of color in the center of his cheeks highlighted the structure of his face, and Trowa was immediately struck that someone who grew up on some of the meanest streets there are in the whole of the Earthsphere was so fine. He was distracted enough by his wonder that he appeared totally unaffected when he got to Duo's elbow.

Duo grinned at him, holding his cigarette over his mouth as he did. "Heya Tro. How's it going?"

Trowa made a gesture that didn't mean anything at all. "Where do you want to go?"

Duo took a slow, satisfying drag, and half shrugged. "Dunno. The Abbey?"

Trowa nodded. The Abbey was a small Irish pub near the headquarters that almost no one ever went to for lunch, even though the food was distinctly non-Irish, because it was considered more of a night place. They walked together amiably, pacing together without difficulty. The sun was still out, but in the downtown area, it wasn't as oppressive, reflected off the steel and concrete. Trowa found that the sunshine in the city was actually enjoyable. That, in addition to the bite of the wind and the sensation of closeness to Duo, made it seem like the morning was over and the day was just beginning.

It wasn't a feeling Trowa was at all used to, so he stuffed his hands in his pockets and tried to ignore it.

They seated themselves in a dark corner of the bar, and Duo handed Trowa one of the small menus in a dirty plastic sheath from the holder at the end of the table. Trowa stared at it for long moments before he recognized the markings on the paper as words.

"Mind if I have a drink?" Duo's question seemed completely fatuous, since Trowa had assumed that Duo picked a bar for lunch so that he could drink. Since Duo didn't appear to even remember that he had asked a question, Trowa didn't feel any need to answer.

[back] [cont]