Rattlesnakes + Part 5 (cont)

Dr. Clarkson looked at them both, and Trowa could see that he was superimposing what he knew of their skin over what he saw. It would normally have made Trowa feel uncomfortable, but in this circumstance, he merely felt annoyed.

When the session finally came to an end, Dr. Clarkson seemed determined to give them a lecture, but Duo was so busy stretching out, as if he had just woken from a nap, that Trowa didn't really know what the doctor had said.

There did seem to be a sense of accomplishment that they got their forms without removing any clothing.

They ate at a Chinese fast food place, using chopsticks to eat the noodles. They sat in a booth by the bathrooms, and they didn't speak while they ordered or ate.

Trowa thought about putting his hand on Duo's waist, or taking his hand, as they walked. They went first to Duo's apartment, although Duo seemed uncomfortable there, as if he was sure they were going to be ambushed any minute. After he had thrown in clothes and toiletries for a night, they walked to Trowa's apartment.

There was a message on Trowa's 'phone display, but he ignored it. They got undressed, and slipped into the bed. Duo put his head down on Trowa's chest, and fell asleep.

Trowa was groggily awake when Duo woke up hours later, but they still didn't speak. Duo placed gentle kisses on Trowa's chest, and Trowa wasn't sure if Duo knew he was awake or not.

When they left for work in the morning, Duo kissed Trowa for a long time right before he opened the door.

Trowa spent the whole day at work playing minesweeper, and thinking about Duo's mouth.

+

Catherine was far more excited about Trowa's newly expanded social life before she knew it was Duo he was seeing. This served to annoy Trowa so much that he hung up on her less than a minute later. He felt oddly out of place in his apartment, and he turned on both the tv and the radio in an attempt to fill his space with noise.

He had no desire to clean, nor did he wish to do anything productive or entertaining. He would have taken a walk, but he didn't want to leave the apartment. He thought about ordering food, but he was feeling dissociatively nauseous, so he didn't bother. He didn't want to sit, and he was tired of standing.

He went to the bathroom, and turned on the light. He stood in the threshold of the bathroom uncertainly.

He did not want to cut himself. He did not want to see Duo's face when he saw the bandages. He did not want to clean up his own blood.

At the same time, he did not know how to resist the lure of the pain.

He stared at the tile on the floor of the bathroom until his eyes could not focus, and the lines of the grout swam and blurred into the tile. He wanted to lie down for a while, and it seemed easiest to lie down on the ground where he was standing.

The tile was cool against his skin, and his thoughts got progressively darker, until he forced himself to think about the conversation with Duo, replaying every word exactly.

He had wanted Duo to come over. He had even thought of a movie they could watch together. They could order it on the streaming video, and they could watch together on the couch. It seemed like a very good plan.

Duo even seemed to want to do it. He just wanted to do it later, possibly tomorrow.

He didn't say why he wanted to delay, and Trowa was not so foolish as he needed to ask. Duo kept talking, and Trowa wanted to hang up. Trowa wasn't angry or jealous or disappointed or upset. Not in his reaction. He was completely blank.

This seemed to make Duo agitated. Trowa derived some pleasure from that, though he was careful not to show it.

He spent an hour or more after the 'phone call watching the alley, but then Catherine called. She only called once, and when she tried again later, Trowa felt obligated to answer.

He did not like feeling obligated to Catherine. He did not owe her anything. She had saved his life once, but it wasn't something that he valued, so he did not consider that a debt.

He wished she had let him die in the war, when it would have meant something. It was as if she had single-handedly thwarted his destiny, and now he was adrift, trying to navigate without a destination to try and reach.

He closed his eyes, and counted to seven hundred and ninety six, and then he got up because his neck was aching.

He had told Duo to come over whenever he was ready, that they could watch the movie late if that was more convenient, but he knew that Duo wasn't going to show up to see the movie.

He pictured what Heero was going to do to Duo, was doing to him, and he sat down on the couch, staring straight ahead at his video shelf.

Duo had been agitated when they had ended the conversation. Trowa had been uncooperative, and Duo had spent more time than he intended chattering nervously. When he did disconnect, he apologized for hanging up, but he was going to be late.

Trowa sighed, and put his head down on the armrest of the couch. It would have been nice to watch a movie with Duo.

He lost track of the time, and eventually he became aware that the apartment was in complete darkness. This did not bother him, so he felt no need to do anything about it.

Duo knocked on the door at 3:27am. Trowa knew it was Duo just by the way he knocked - almost as if he were scratching the door.

Trowa wasn't sure he wanted to answer the door, even as he was standing up to get it. There were too many reasons that Duo could be here at this time.

He opened the door carefully, standing in the space the door revealed. Duo was leaning against the jamb, looking utterly bedraggled. Trowa nodded at him, causing Duo to lift his eyes.

"Can I come in?" Trowa noticed that Duo was hiding half his face behind the jamb, making him look smaller and a bit innocent.

He was fairly sure that it was intentional, but it didn't matter that much. He moved away from the door so that Duo could get past. Duo walked in with his head down and his arms over his stomach. His t-shirt was all rumpled and had a large food stain on the hem. He wasn't wearing his jacket, and Trowa wondered how long he had been outside his door; he must have been cold, but he wasn't shivering at all. His pants were zipped but not buttoned, and they hung down low enough to show off the top of his boxers.

He looked small and tired and dirty and used.

"Mind if I use your shower?" Duo couldn't look at Trowa as he spoke, and he kept his eyes just the to the right of Trowa's feet.

Trowa waved his arm in the direction of the bathroom, and Duo nodded, moving quickly to escape. Trowa watched him go, his eyes on the way Duo's braid hung limply over his back. For a second, Trowa just stood there and looked at the bathroom door. Duo would let down his hair to shower. Trowa could feel his limbs settle into a lethargic state, and he tried to motivate himself to move, but he just stood in the center of the small hallway, staring at the door to the bathroom, thinking about Duo's hair.

When the water started, he blinked. Duo was in his shower, washing his hair and his body. They were technically lovers; Trowa could be in the shower with Duo. But he knew somehow that he wouldn't be entirely welcome yet.

He wasn't even sure he should be using the word 'yet.'

He trudged into his bedroom, and pulled out a plain t-shirt and a pair of sweats, and a fresh towel. He opened the door to the bathroom just enough to slip them inside, and then he went to the kitchen, to make tea.

That was his intention, at least, but he realized that he had no tea, so he made chocolate milk instead. He swirled a knife in the tall glass for the duration of Duo's shower, switching from one glass to the other mechanically every nineteen swirls.

The water stopped. Duo was now drying himself off, and his hair would be all wet, and covering his body. His body would be bright and flushed from the heat of the water, and from the scrubbing. If he knew Duo half as well as he thought he did, Duo would have scrubbed himself nearly raw.

He took the two glasses to the living room, leaving the milky knife on the counter, neglected. He placed them very precisely on the coffee table. The light from the kitchen illuminated the living room strangely, leaving elongated shadows to trail over the room. He found it atmospheric. He had never realized that the light from the kitchen would have this effect before.

Duo stepped out of the bathroom, and Trowa was hyper aware of the sound of his feet on the carpet.

"Thanks for the clean clothes."

Trowa nodded, but he didn't turn his head to look at Duo, because he was a little nervous about what he might see. Duo stepped in front of him, and Trowa had to bit back a sigh of regret. "Does your hair dry in a braid?"

Duo shrugged with one shoulder, and in Trowa's larger t-shirt, he looked frail. "Doesn't matter. If I waited for my hair to dry, I'd be waiting a long time." Duo wrapped the towel around the braid squeezing it gently, making his way down to the bottom. He sat on the couch so that his back was to Trowa a little, his body shielding his face.

"I made chocolate milk."

Trowa could hear Duo's smile as he replied, "Thanks."

They sat a foot apart.

"You ok?" Trowa wasn't sure what to ask exactly, and he had no idea what Duo was thinking.

"Yeah."

Trowa nodded slowly. He picked up his glass, and just held it so he could feel the cold in all his fingers. "That's a nasty bruise."

Duo's hand reflexively went to his face, and he curled his body to try to hide his reaction. "Yeah."

Trowa nodded, and took a small sip of milk.

Duo picked up his glass in a flurry, and downed half of it at once. "Is it ok if I stay tonight? I didn't mean to... I mean, I don't want you to think..."

"It's ok." Trowa nodded, smiling a little, his eyes down.

Duo nodded. He finished his milk, and then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. It was such an unconscious, childlike gesture, Trowa found it amazingly endearing.

"You need anything?" Trowa's tone was open enough so that his words could have meant almost anything.

Duo tucked his legs under his body, his feet facing Trowa, and he kept his hand next to his feet, inches away from Trowa. "It's been a long night."

Trowa nodded once.

Duo frowned, and Trowa was a little surprised that Duo was being so incautious with his feelings. "Heero was mad that I was so late. He was talking shit, all mad and stuff, and I was annoyed with him... He said some shit about you, and I lost my temper. I told him..." Duo smirked a little, shaking his head in amusement. "I told him that it was nice to be fucked by a man for once, instead of scared little boy who couldn't let go of the past."

Trowa found himself laughing abruptly, and he turned to Duo a little to see the expression on his face.

"Heero didn't like that much." The tone of Duo's voice was enough to tell Trowa what had happened.

Trowa reached out, and touched Duo's face gently, tracing the bruise lightly. Duo leaned a little in Trowa's direction, his body still blocking Trowa.

"He was mad, and I kept provoking him. I tried to hit him back, fight him... but he's a lot stronger than I am. In the end... even when he was hurting me... I just kept provoking him, and letting him..." Duo closed his eyes, and tightened into a ball, until he rolled over, and put his head down on Trowa's thigh.

Trowa reacted normally. He put one hand on Duo's waist, and the other played with the hair around Duo's face. Duo adjusted himself until he was comfortable, and then he turned his head a little so he could see Trowa.

"I got really mad at him, Tro, and I just couldn't let it go. He said things... and I knew he was just trying to get a rise out of me. He sure did." Duo put a hand under his face, on Trowa's thigh, and squeezed a little.

Trowa ran his hand down Duo's slick braid. He wasn't sure what to say. He was a little overwhelmed by the bubbling content feeling that was telling him that Duo came to *him* to relax and decompress.

"It was like getting high." Duo closed his eyes, and shivered. "I mean, it didn't feel good, or anything like that, but it felt like... felt like... getting out of my skin."

Trowa understood that feeling all too well. It was the sickening freedom of opening flesh with metal. It was the head rush that came from watching your blood drip onto the tile floor. He shivered, and held Duo tighter.

"I was *consumed* with anger." Duo spoke with detached wonder, like he was talking about something he read in a book. "I just wanted to *hurt* him. I used to love him, you know. Kinda... scary, isn't it?"

"Yes," Trowa replied thickly. Much of what Duo was saying was scary.

"He called me a whore." Duo pressed his forehead against Trowa's thigh, and Trowa could feel his breath through the cloth of his pants. "Which isn't totally inaccurate, I guess."

Trowa shook his head at the bitterness in Duo's voice. "That's not true."

"I'm having sex with two men." Duo's eyes were wide and clear, gazing up at Trowa. "That's not exactly model behavior."

Trowa pulled a wet strand of hair from around Duo's ear through his fingers, winding it into a curl. He nodded slowly, letting the hand at Duo's waist touch the skin underneath the shirt he had given the other man. "You aren't promiscuous."

"Hm," Duo stretched and curled a little, encouraging Trowa's hands on his body. "I guess that's a question of perspective. I know what I should do." He bit his lip, his brow furrowing. "I know I shouldn't be with Heero anymore. But..." Duo swallowed.

Trowa nodded. "I don't expect you to choose." He felt a little hoarse as he spoke, and his fingers dug into Duo's waist just a little. It was beginning to feel a little like a motto.

"See? You are too good for me, Tro." Duo's bitterness was palpable. "You shouldn't be saddled with me and my problems. You have your own problems."

"I like you." Trowa brushed his fingers up Duo's flank, imagining the thrills as Duo's skin became sensitized. "Your problems distract me from the critical boredom of my days."

Duo smiled. "As long as I can be entertaining..."

Trowa brushed his thumb over Duo's temple. "You are. Very."

Duo laughed quietly under his breath. "Well. Good, then." He rubbed his cheek against Trowa's thigh, and ran his hand over Trowa's knee. "He knows that I get pissed when he calls me a whore, though. He does it on purpose. And then I get even madder at him. It was like a... game. Or something."

"You guys play rough." Trowa ran his fingers through Duo's bangs, his fingers touching Duo's forehead almost reverently.

"Yeah. Well, when we first met, I shot him. I guess we've always been going for broke." Duo turned to face Trowa. "Neither of us plays fair."

Trowa's hand ran over Duo's tummy, his forefinger tracing his bellybutton.

"I used to know whores on L2. Growing up. Some of them were nice. They would give us kids money or food, if they were feeling generous. Usually when they were high. Others were meaner than pit bulls. They hated us, would beat us..."

Trowa kept his hands on Duo, the contact keeping both of them grounded as Duo reminisced.

"There was this one... She was only sixteen. She looked like she was thirty. She... She had a thing for Solo. He had to have been twelve at the time. But she would try to hang around him, try to get him to take her out... She hated me. I guess she thought I was competition, or something."

Duo's voice got small and wistful, even as he spoke of bitter things. Trowa admired Duo's calm.

"She called me Solo's slut. And she was mean. One day... she had me cornered in an alley. She was crazy, she wanted to know where Solo was. She wanted to know what things we did together. She was fucking nuts. She was convinced that Solo was fucking me. She... she tried to pull my clothes off. She wanted to know what Solo saw in me.

"I was only nine, about. I had no idea what her problem was."

Trowa leaned down, so he could hear Duo better, and so he could see Duo's face. Duo's eyes were a million miles away.

"She started to hit me, she said she was gonna find out why Solo liked me so much. I was scared... I tried to fight her, but she was bigger, and every time I hit her or clawed at her, she just got madder. She... she was like a rabid dog.

"Solo and I never really separated much. I mean, we always worked the same areas. So, he musta heard me or something. Anyway. Next thing I knew, he was there, and he had a brick. He hit her across the face. For a minute, I thought he had killed her, there was blood and some teeth, and she was just lying on the ground. Solo was trying to drag me away, but I was still hurt and scared..."

Trowa ran his hand over Duo's neck, nodding as Duo spoke. Hearing about Duo's past made him think about his own, and he almost wanted to make Duo stop talking, just so he could stop thinking. But he wasn't about to interfere.

"The next thing I know, she's on her feet and spitting blood and screaming and screeching. And Solo is dragging me away, but we didn't get away fast enough, and her pimp showed up. He was this... really slimy guy, with oily hair, and just... he was skinny with yellow teeth and bad clothes. A pimp.

"And this girl, she was screaming at him, about me, calling me names, telling the pimp that I screwed her up, and he should take care of me. Solo shoved me behind him, but...

"The pimp looked at her. He said, 'you're no good to me like this.' And she was all proud, and lookin' at me like she was gonna be dancing on my grave. The pimp pulled out a gun, and shot her in the face from three feet away.

"I screamed, and Solo grabbed me by the waist and dragged me away. We got back to the hole in the wall we lived in, and Solo held me. He was talkin' to me, telling me that he needed to look at my wounds... And I was cryin'. I had... I had never seen anyone die before, never seen anyone get shot before. And Solo... wiped my tears away. He told me that boys didn't cry, and anyway she was just a filthy whore. When she was gone, there'll be a dozen more to take her place. I wasn't supposed to get upset."

Trowa sighed silently, and ran his hand up and down Duo's braid.

Duo twisted a little so that he was on his back. "Have you ever cried Tro?"

Trowa brushed his fingers up and down Duo's face. "I cried when I first moved here. I was alone, and I missed Cathy. I missed the circus, and the animals. I hated the job, and all the conditions they were placing on my employment. I hated my life. And I cried."

Duo reached up and touched Trowa's cheek. "Why did you stay here?"

Trowa shrugged, looking at the wall. "Cathy was worried about me. She... she was the one who found me. In the bathroom, in my blood... both times, actually. After the first time, she was going to watch me. And then the second time... and I nearly died. She didn't know what to do. She thought this would be better for me, more stable, healthier. That the Preventors would take care of me, and people would be looking out for me..."

"And you'd be out of her hair, so she wouldn't be responsible anymore." Duo had his hand over Trowa's heart as he spoke, and the way he said the words, it was almost like he was saying something nice.

Trowa's head dipped down. "Yeah."

"Don't worry, Trowa." Duo smiled up at him. "I'll take care of you, now."

Trowa felt a smile spread over his face, a feeling so natural, he didn't even feel it. "Are you tired? Do you want to go to sleep?"

Duo shrugged. "I dunno. You going to bed?" He looked a little anxious, like he wasn't sure what he wanted Trowa to say.

Trowa ran his fingers over Duo's braid. "Let's go together. Get some sleep before work."

Duo nodded, and sat up slowly.

The dawn was just creeping into the windows when they slipped under the covers.

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