Rattlesnakes + Part 8 (cont)

"Trowa!" Quatre brushed his bangs aside, beaming. "I was hoping I could take a few minutes of your time."

Trowa watched as Heero and Duo disappeared from view. "This isn't a good time, Quatre."

Quatre sighed, and wore that look that reminded Trowa of an impatient schoolteacher. "But it's never a good time, is it, Trowa?" He took Trowa's wrist, and determinedly headed off to a private room.

Trowa's wrist was getting pinched in Quatre's grip, and the only way for him to break free was to make a scene. He would have done so anyway, but a sense of defeat silently killed any intention of refusal.

Quatre lead them through the maze of people and hallways until he had located a small drawing room that was unoccupied. He sat down on the small, cushy sofa, pulling on Trowa's wrist so that he sat down next to him.

"Thank goodness," Quatre gushed, "I had begun to think that we would never get any time together."

Trowa did not react to Quatre's beaming expression.

"Trowa, I really want to talk to you. I've been... I've been so worried about you." Quatre put his hand on Trowa's thigh, and looked up at Trowa with what could only be described as watery eyes.

Trowa felt a bit repulsed, but he had no room to inch away from Quatre, nor could he bring himself to touch Quatre's hand to remove it.

"I mean, I keep thinking about your... your... I keep thinking about, I mean, what had happened to you, and what *might* have happened... And I can't help but feel like I'm responsible."

Trowa was immediately concerned with the possibility that Quatre might start crying on his shoulder.

Quatre picked up Trowa's hand, and caressed it between his own. "Trowa, the truth is, I still love you as much as I ever did."

Trowa did not doubt that in the least, although he was now uncertain as to what that meant about their relationship in the past. He gently pulled his hand out of Quatre's grasp, but that only caused Quatre to move even closer into Trowa's personal space.

"And I think about you all the time. I wish that we could... I wish that we could just bridge whatever gap there is between us, so that we could maybe *connect* like we used to. Don't you miss that, Trowa?" Quatre was so earnest and needy, it almost reminded Trowa of what attracted him to Quatre in the first place.

It was like looking down at the world from the sky. Everything made sense, but he was distanced from it. "I used to."

Quatre flinched, turning his face away as if he had been struck. "I've hurt you."

Trowa thought about it. "No." It was true, really. What he had expected and not gotten from Quatre was not his to expect. It wasn't that Quatre had hurt him; he had been hurt long before he knew Quatre.

"I have, and now there's this distance between us that I never wanted. And you're with Duo..." Quatre choked on his words, raising his hand to his mouth, overcome with emotion.

Oddly, Trowa envied Quatre's melodramatics.

"I just don't understand it. You and he... you have nothing in common. What could possibly draw you to him?" Quatre did not disguise his horror or his regret.

"He is great in bed." Trowa wasn't offering an excuse, but he did wish that he were here with Duo instead.

Quatre turned to face Trowa, folding one leg under him as he leaned over Trowa's body. "Give me another chance, Trowa, and I'll promise that I won't disappoint you this time." He put his hand on Trowa's heart, and leaned forward, putting his face right in front of Trowa's. "I can erase all your pain and doubt, and give you everything you ever wanted. Please, Trowa, just let me in..." Quatre leaned forward, his eyelids fluttering shut as puckered his pink lips for a kiss.

Trowa stood up and brushed his pants off compulsively. It made him sick in the deepest regions of his guts to think that there had been a time, not so long ago, when he lived from breath to breath waiting for Quatre to make just that offer. "I have to go. Please, don't... don't make something of this, Quatre." He turned and left immediately, still rubbing his hands over his pant legs.

He walked with erratic quickness, trying to remember the way back to the ballroom. There were more and more people littering the hallways, so Trowa kept his head down so that he wouldn't make eye contact with anyone.

He needed to get far away from Quatre, and he wanted to find Duo. He didn't understand what Quatre expected of him. Did Quatre have other lovers? Did Malakeh know about Quatre's intention to attempt to seduce him? It made his thoughts swirl.

Trowa navigated his way through the halls, and slipped back inside the ballroom. The music was even louder than before, having transitioned from traditional swing band music to more modern music. People were clustered around tables, watching the packed dance floor. Trowa had more trouble pushing his way around now, and he had to keep his head up to look for Duo.

He started in the direction of the darkened nook that Heero had pushed Duo to, but he hadn't gotten very far when he noticed Heero sitting at a table, talking to Noin and a few of Relena's other advisors. Trowa stopped in his tracks, and turned around.

Duo might have been in the middle of the dance floor, and it would have been difficult to see him there, but Trowa kept to the fringes of the room regardless. Near the bar, he saw Wu Fei and Sally talking with few other people Trowa recognized offhandedly as Preventor field agents.

Sidling up along Wu Fei's open side, Trowa unobtrusively got the other man's attention. Wu Fei held up his index finger to excuse himself from the group, and turned to Trowa.

"Have you seen Duo?" Trowa got straight to the point.

Wu Fei shrugged his shoulders. "No, I haven't. Is everything all right?"

Trowa shrugged noncommittally. "I'm sure." He wandered off, his eyes scraping over every inch of the ballroom.

Duo *could* be dancing, but Trowa wasn't so sure of it. Duo certainly wasn't enjoying himself, and Heero had taken Duo off for some reason...

Trowa spied the open French doors that lead outside, and became intrigued.

There was a wide terrace with steps leading down to the garden where people who were tired and hot from dancing were congregating en masse. Trowa didn't bother to look for Duo amongst the crowd, but instead walked straight for the gardens.

It was already getting late, and the lights from the party and the palace were washed out by the darkness almost as soon as he entered the path to the delicately manicured English garden. The path was nothing more than flat, smooth stones placed near each other, leading off in a rambling but orderly web dissecting the garden. Trowa walked carefully, keeping his feet well within the limits of the stones, his eyes cast down to keep himself steady. The sky was black, so there must have been clouds, but the only evidence of them was visible on the fringes of where the moonlight shone. The darkness cloaked the garden so that all that was visible of the shrubbery were blotches of darkness lurking on the grounds.

It was comfortingly bleak.

Trowa had no direction to his steps, nor was he consciously seeking out Duo. When he heard a sound from a little deeper in the garden, he knew right away the source without surprise.

Duo was sitting on a bench, his hands clutching the bench behind him. He was leaning back with his head thrown all the way back so that he could watch the sky. There was a bottle of something next to his right foot, and left foot shuffled quietly through the short grass.

He was completely still, and his face bore no expression. He was like a work of art, the sort that people puzzled over for centuries, trying to discern the workings of the mind of both artist and subject. He was painfully beautiful to Trowa.

"Lovely night for a walk." It was no surprise to Trowa that Duo was aware of his presence, and no apparent surprise to Duo that Trowa was there, although Duo did not abandon his perusal of the heavens.

Trowa sat down on the bench next to Duo, careful not to come so close as to touch the other man. "So it appears."

Duo grinned, just the corners of his mouth moving, as he did when Trowa amused him. "Weren't you enjoying the dancing?"

"As much as you were." Trowa leaned back, very aware of where he was placing his hands in relation to where Duo's hands were.

Duo laughed, a sharp sound that pierced the quiet for just a moment, like a clap of thunder. "Ah, well, probably better that we're out here, anyway, eh? We're the types to make people uncomfortable, don't you think?"

Trowa didn't care to follow along with that line of thinking. He had a feeling that it didn't lead anywhere. "Heero dragged you off."

"So he did."

"What did he want to talk to you about?"

Duo closed his eyes, and considered. "What did Quatre want to talk to you about?"

"He wanted to seduce me." Trowa didn't miss a beat.

Duo smiled, and leaned forward, picking up the bottle absently as he did. He moved as slowly and as deliberately as an old man. "Poor Q. He's had a tough life, you know."

Trowa snorted, and looked away.

"I mean, everyone has their troubles," Duo continued to himself as he drank, "and I don't think anyone's troubles are diminished by wealth. But I also... Sometimes I don't think that Quatre is fully aware of how good he's had it."

Trowa took a deep breath, enjoying the crisp bite and freshness of the air. "Did you forget that I asked you about Heero?"

"No," Duo responded quickly, turning the bottle in his hand reflectively. "I did not."

There was a pause that became a lull until it reached a critical mass that Trowa recognized meant that he would have to wait for Duo to break the silence. He focused on the tightly massed branches of the bush next to him, and the way the glossy leaves seemed to reflect the night.

"I don't know, Tro, what do you think? Do you think that people have learned anything in the last ten years?" Duo was not looking at him, and Trowa had the half-formed suspicion that he wasn't talking to him either, but his name was used, so he tried to formulate an opinion.

"I think people are, for the most part, prosperous. So there is no reason for them to test the peace." Trowa pulled a leaf off of the bush, and pressed it between his fingers.

Duo stood up, stretching his arms out, holding the bottle above his head. "People are the same, though, aren't they? The same impulses and instincts and intuitions are informing their choices. Given the right stimuli, people will act the same as they always have, won't they?

"People can't be taught to be peaceful. It isn't in their nature."

Trowa watched Duo intently, finding no compulsion to reply to the truth. "I take it then that you are enjoying the party."

Duo's laugh was bitter and honest. "I would enjoy it a lot more if I were high. Fuck."

Trowa flinched, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. He had no faculty with which he could assist Duo. "At least there's plenty of free liquor."

"It's like filling in a canyon with spoon. I can't keep up." Duo moved so that he stood apart from Trowa and the bench, his back facing the other man.

Trowa examined Duo apathetically, his limbs comfortably still. "You don't want to start again, though, do you?"

"Do you?" The question hung out there, and Trowa almost welcomed how it cut him. "It's impossible, Tro. You get that better than anyone, right? It hurts *all* the time. I can't be expected to live like this, can I?"

Perhaps it was the night, the blackness of it, the distant sound of revelers. Perhaps it was the time of year. Perhaps it was because they couldn't see each other that well from only a few feet away. Trowa rubbed his hands over his thighs, nervous with the rawness of Duo's voice.

"What else can we do, Duo? Maybe that's what the therapy is for, I don't know. But we can't keep... We have to keep going on."

Duo snorted and took a long drink from the bottle. "Going where, and to do what?"

Trowa eyed Duo critically. "You prefer the alternative?"

Duo shivered, an involuntary motion he quickly tried to hide. "No. I don't mean that. I just... want some release from this, you know?"

Trowa leaned over his hands clasped between his knees, and looked down at the nothing between his feet. "I know."

Duo sat down next to him, suddenly invigorated. "I crave it, you know, right down to the very center of every atom in my body. And I don't even fucking care right now if it's wrong or whatever the fuck. Like I'm supposed to take morality lessons from the example of people like Heero or Quatre. What the fuck do they know? They don't even fucking care. Whatever doesn't fit into their narrow little view of the world is just automatically wrong and evil, and they don't even fucking see what's really going on. Fuck. I would sell infants into slavery for something right now. Any fucking thing."

Trowa looked up at Duo, his face still down, his hair almost completely blocking his view of Duo. The pale, filtered moonlight and the reflection of the light from the party highlighted Duo's features, shading his face with light that served to exaggerate the bones and lines of Duo's face.

He looked much older than he was.

"Did Heero want to have sex with you?"

Trowa didn't know why he had asked, but he didn't need to say it out loud to know the answer. The question that he didn't know the answer to - why Duo had said no - became too important for Trowa to risk asking. He succumbed to the desire to hurt Duo in the best way he knew how.

"Is this really all because of a mission? Because you had to kill three people?" It sounded like such a simple thing when Trowa said it, he believed that it was stupid. "What could have happened that would change you so much?"

Duo stood up jerkily and walked five steps away.

"Relena told me about it," he added superfluously.

Duo snorted. "Relena doesn't know as much as she thinks she does."

Another pause drifted into a lull, and Trowa was hyperaware of how far away from him Duo was standing. He felt an oppressive need to make amends, although he didn't really feel any remorse. "I shouldn't have said that."

Duo made some sort of noise that expressed his opinion of that statement and he finished off the bottle, tossing it into the garden when he was done. It made a shattering sound that filled the night for the moment.

"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm sick of dancing for tonight. I mean, we should have just danced together before instead of around each other like this." Duo crossed his arms over his chest, and in his drunken state, he appeared petulant.

Trowa smiled to himself. "It would have been fun watching everyone else if we did."

Duo shook his head. "Fucking bigoted shits, all proud of themselves for crap they had nothing to do with and don't even fuckin' understand. I hate them all."

Trowa looked up at Duo, and for a moment, in the dark, they looked into each other's eyes, though neither could actually see the other's.

Cocking his head to the side, Trowa pondered. "Were we going to have sex in the throne room?"

Duo started to laugh after a moment, and all the tension evaporated at the sound. Coming to sit on the bench, Duo put his hands out to touch Trowa. "Were you tempted by Quatre?"

Trowa answered, realizing abjectly that he could not ask Duo the same for the exact same reason that Duo was able to ask him. "No."

Duo kissed his lips, and for a moment all of Trowa's senses were consumed by the taste of Duo. Duo's fingers were on his face when their lips separated. "Do you know the way to the throne room?"

Trowa shook his head.

Duo shrugged. "Eh, who cares. Here is as good as there."

Trowa let Duo drag him down, pushing his back into the grass, his fingers and his lips ravenous for Duo. They were frantic and haphazard, fumbling with each other like virgins. When Duo peeled Trowa's clothes back, the cool night air rushed over his skin, and Trowa felt cold as Duo pressed his body against his. Duo's eyes were only inches away, but Trowa couldn't read Duo's expression at all.

Trowa could only clutch at the hair at the base of Duo's head, Duo's braid falling to the side, a heavy weight on Trowa's arm.

They moved against each other out of sync, no rhythm making a pattern to their passion. There was only Duo's hair between Trowa's fingers, and Duo's hand cushioning the back of Trowa's head, and Duo's body over and under and in Trowa's, and Trowa's body under and over and around Duo's, their bellies rubbing together, their noses bumping, and their eyes no more than an inch or two apart ever.

Trowa pulled Duo closer to him, their chests both heaving and the space between Trowa's legs messy, warding off the chill with Duo's skin. He loathed the idea of getting dressed again, and of sleeping in the garden.

"Do you think there will be a time when we won't want each other? When I'll touch you, and nothing will happen? When whatever biochemical reaction is behind the way you excite me becomes less responsive, and we lose the verve for it?" Duo spoke with a small voice right against the skin of Trowa's neck, and Trowa had no way of responding except to take Duo's braid in his hand and kiss Duo's temple.

He hoped that they passed a lot of guests, including Heero and Quatre, when they went back inside.

~*~

There was no sun in the morning. A Christmas rain was predicted for the afternoon, and the morning was cloudy and as dark as dusk. Trowa pulled the sheet and blanket back so he could touch Duo's bare skin, tracing the pattern of his tattoo with his fingertips.

It was a pleasant way to wake up for him.

Duo's braid was a mess, as he hadn't brushed it last night when they got back to the room, so it looked like the braid might fall apart at any minute. Trowa delicately moved it around to avoid damaging it, doing his best to keep it intact even as he played with the wisps of hair that released themselves from the confines of the braid. After a while, Duo's skin got cold, and even though he was nearly shivering, he kept his eyes squeezed shut, refusing to wake up.

Trowa did not push it. It was Christmas morning, and there were big plans for the day, but neither Trowa nor Duo wished to participate, so they could lay abed a few hours more and there would be no harm.

Duo turned over, flipping his braid over his shoulder with an exasperated sigh, and burrowed into Trowa's naked belly. Duo's arm snaked over Trowa's midsection, and Trowa ran his hand up and down the length of it. Duo's arm was surprisingly boney, his elbow sharp. Trowa squeezed Duo's bicep gently before running his hand over the protrusion of Duo's elbow.

Duo made a noise that was generally associated with an awake person, and shut his eyes more determinedly.

Trowa let himself smile, and he began toying with the hair around Duo's face, brushing locks back and tucking them behind Duo's ears, then tracing his finger along the bone of Duo's nose, sweeping up to run his finger over Duo's cheekbone.

Duo sighed through his nose, and spoke blearily. "Why are you waking me up?"

"I'm not," Trowa replied reasonably, "I'm just touching you."

Duo squeezed his eyes shut as tightly as he could. "Isn't that the same thing?"

"No," Trowa opined, "because it's your fault for lounging around naked. It's like begging to be touched."

"But Tro," Duo countered softly, a restrained laugh in his voice, "you were the one to undress me last night."

"Your clothes were dirty."

"You got them dirty."

"You were the one to push me down into the grass."

"That was your fault," Duo cracked an eye open, smiling up at Trowa, "for being so damn fuckable."

Trowa nodded. "It is."

Duo laughed, and opened his eyes, pushing himself against Trowa. "Merry Christmas, Tro."

Trowa ran his hand down Duo's neck, letting his fingers linger over Duo's jugular. "You too."

"Do you have a present for me?" Duo's question was without guile or artifice, something that he had a talent for.

Trowa nodded slowly. "I do."

Duo grinned brightly, pushing himself up into a sitting position. "Me too! Let's trade, ok?"

Trowa would have to have been a far stronger man than he was to refuse Duo's child-like glee. Trowa had tucked his present for Duo away in the drawer of the end table on his side of the bed, anticipating the morning ritual. Apparently, Duo had thought of the same thing at some point, because neither of them had to get out of bed to get their gifts. Duo sat up, so Trowa propped himself against the headboard, admiring the way the sheets pooled at Duo's waist, covering nothing.

It was a shame that his gift was so small and wrapped in plain red paper, but Trowa was relieved to see that Duo's gift was also small, although it was wrapped in shimmering silver paper that had a holographic effect, even in the low light. They swapped gifts wordlessly, Duo making a noise of excitement as he started to rip into the paper.

Trowa methodically tore at the seams of the wrapping, keeping his eyes on Duo as he did.

Duo uncovered the small jewelry box with a puzzled expression, and Trowa couldn't help thinking that Duo looked cute with his mouth unconsciously forming a pout. Duo opened the box, and his eyes widened and his body went still.

Trowa fidgeted, focusing on his gift. He pulled the paper off, and unwrapped the tissue. Trowa blinked four times before he pulled the object out of the tissue paper.

Duo chuckled harshly. "I guess we both wanted to reclaim something from the past, eh, Tro?"

Trowa nodded once, and set the paper aside, turning the tin whistle over in his hands. It was the first instrument that he had ever learned to play, although he was certain that Duo could not know that. Raising his eyes to meet his lover's, he smiled his gratitude. "Can I put that on for you?"

Duo swallowed, and looked down at the gold cross. "You shouldn't have gotten me something so nice. I'm not even Catholic, you know."

"You don't like it." Trowa did not betray his reaction in his voice, although his eyes searched Duo's body language for more information.

Duo shook his head. "It's not that..."

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