Rattlesnakes + Part 8 (cont)

Trowa put the tin whistle down on the bed between them and took the jewelry box out of Duo's hands. Pulling the chain out from the box, he opened the clasp and leaned over to Duo. He put his hands around Duo's neck, and leaned his head over Duo's shoulder so he could see.

Duo was breathing rather deeply, and he put his hands on Trowa's body with such hesitance that Trowa was afraid to lean back. Duo's eyes were closed, and with the cross on his chest, his hair wildly braided, and his body nude, he looked like a debauched angel fearing repentance.

Trowa kissed Duo's lips gingerly, until Duo parted his lips and they kissed with dignified passion, their only contact their mouths. Duo's eyes opened, and Trowa could not interpret what he saw in them.

Trowa pushed Duo down onto his back, and smiled at Duo. Picking up the tin whistle, he offered, "Shall I play for you?"

Duo smiled, and Trowa played. The music of the whistle was airy and soulful, like the mournful tune of a fairy. Duo watched Trowa as he played, toying with his braid. When the song ended, and Trowa put the whistle aside, Duo pulled his head down, and they kissed.

Trowa spread Duo's legs out, and lifted Duo's balls tenderly, kissing the skin above Duo's groin. Duo arched his back, and groaned.

Trowa kissed Duo's cross as he moved inside of Duo, tonguing the skin and the gold wantonly, and Duo cried for more.

They fell asleep wrapped around each other, and Trowa could still hear Duo's moans mixed with the song of the tin whistle.

~*~

Duo was still complaining as they entered the small, private dining room.

"It wasn't such a big deal for you to get me breakfast yesterday! I don't see why I had to get my own today." Duo scuffed his shiny shoe against the soft Persian rug.

"Duo, it's three in the afternoon." Trowa was past the point of being reasonable. Now, he was only replying because it would have been rude not to do so.

It did not deter Duo. "But that was your fault. You were the one who wanted to play your whistle for me." Duo leered as he spoke, and Trowa felt the urge to blush, casting his eyes about to see who might have overheard.

Trowa stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Wu Fei choking, holding a napkin over his mouth. He took a moment to be mortified, and then went to sit with Wu Fei.

"Chang." Trowa nodded as he sat down opposite the other man, not even bothering to look to see if Duo was following him.

"Barton," Wu Fei choked out, not quite meeting Trowa's eyes.

"Hey, Fei! Don't tell me you've joined the ranks of the lazy afternoon breakfast eaters?" Duo flopped down in his chair with much more noise than necessary, completely out of pique.

Wu Fei spared a brief smile for Duo. "Maxwell, I had breakfast hours ago. I decided to meditate in the late morning, and I missed the lunch."

Duo rolled his eyes. "I'm sure you were devastated."

Wu Fei actually appeared to enjoy Duo's joke, much to the surprise of Duo and Trowa.

"So, we *can* still get breakfast, right?" Duo looked around nervously, aware that they were not really in a restaurant.

Trowa shrugged. "Go to the kitchen and see. I'm sure they'll make whatever you want."

Duo rubbed the back of his neck, grinning nervously. "Oh, I don't want to put anyone out."

Trowa rolled his eyes, but Wu Fei smiled warmly at Duo.

"Barton, be a good boyfriend, and get Duo some breakfast."

Trowa and Duo stared at Wu Fei exactly as if he had just sprouted six heads.

Wu Fei ignored them, calmly sipping his tea. "After all, you've kept him from it with your whistle-playing all morning and afternoon. That was rude."

Duo laughed out loud, and Trowa decided that getting up was easier that dealing with a humorous Wu Fei.

Trowa did not rush as he made his way to the kitchen. There had to have been a reason that Wu Fei had teased him into leaving, and Trowa found that he trusted Wu Fei alone with Duo. Perhaps Wu Fei would say something meaningful to Duo; he certainly was smart enough to think of meaningful things.

The kitchens were a busy place to be on this sort of occasion; it seemed like there was a teaming mass of hundreds of cooks and cook assistants, mixing things in bowls and fussing over pots on stoves and sticking things in ovens. The gleaming white walls and floors reflected off of the shining metal pans and appliances, the polished natural wood of the table warming the visual banquet.

Trowa hated kitchens. He did not understand how they worked, and therefore felt at a disadvantage while he inhabited them. This kitchen was the largest and busiest kitchen he had been in for as long as he could remember off the top of his head, and it left him feeling distinctly out of place.

Trowa stood in the doorway, and waited for someone to notice him. Several people saw him, but none moved forward to speak to him for several minutes. Trowa waited patiently, his eyes darting from station to station around the room, as he tried to discern the pattern in the chaos.

A young girl in a too-large white apron had to clear her throat to get his attention from the sight of the pastry chefs working on tonight's desserts. "Can I help you, sir?"

Trowa nodded shortly. "I need a breakfast tray for two. Nothing fancy, please. Just some toast, a bagel, that sort of thing."

The girl nodded happily. "Eggs? You want eggs, too, right?"

Trowa blinked. He was pretty sure he had already placed his order.

She smiled brightly, totally oblivious to his disdain. "Do you like them over easy, sunny side up, or scrambled? I can make omelets too, but that's probably too fancy."

Trowa swallowed deliberately. "Just the toast and bagels, please."

"Oh, you need protein! I'll whip up some scrambled eggs in a jiff. What about some cinnamon rolls? We made a huge batch this morning, and I'm pretty sure we still have some ready to pop in the oven. What kind of spreads do you want? Butter, honey butter, margarine, jam, jelly, peanut butter? Do you want juice, coffee, tea, milk, soda?" She rattled along cheerfully, speaking fast and thinking of new things every heartbeat.

Trowa blinked five times, and answered, "Yes."

She looked at him, and then started to laugh in a decidedly girlish fashion that reminded Trowa of Catherine. "Ok! What dining room are you in? I'll have it delivered in just a few minutes."

Trowa shook his head once. "I'll take it from here."

"Oh, sir," she objected, "that's not necessary. We can't have guests delivering their own meals!"

Trowa leaned back against the wall. "It's fine."

She smiled at his passive determination. "All right, I guess. Just give me a few minutes to get it all together." She took three steps away before stopping and looking over her shoulder at him. "Um, sir?" She didn't seem like she really wanted to go on. "You're... you're a Gundam pilot, right? You're with Duo Maxwell."

Trowa's eyebrows rose minutely, and he lowered his head fractionally so he would not appear to be disapproving of her.

She blushed, and rushed forward. "I'm from L2. I'm the same age as you, too, really. We all... We are all really grateful for everything you've done for us, all of you. Why, my father's cousin still tells people about the time he helped out Duo. He's a real hero on L2, you know."

Trowa's lips twitched as he imagined how Duo would respond to that. "He's a hero here, too."

She completely burnt up with embarrassment, and stammered, "Oh, I know, I didn't mean to say, that is, I'm sorry, it's not coming out right, that is, I never expected to actually be able to talk to one of you..."

A cry of 'Angela!' came from deeper in the kitchen, and the girl flushed even deeper. Trowa took pity, and pushed himself away from the wall. He put his hand on Angela's shoulder, and tried to smile genuinely. "Thank you."

Her eyes got watery, and she gasped with delight, before turning and running into maze of tables and stoves and ovens. Trowa sighed, and went back to leaning against the wall next to the door.

It didn't take as long as he thought it would. It seemed that hardly any time at all had passed, but then Angela returned, pushing a cart that had three levels to it. On the bottom, there were a half dozen carafes, presumably filled with every beverage deemed suitable for breakfast. On the middle shelf, there were plates, cutlery, napkins, glasses and cups, and small pots of every conceivable condiment. On the top, there were multiple covered dishes.

Angela smiled demurely at him, and Trowa presumed that she was embarrassed still about her behavior. The polite thing for him to do would be to console her and assure her that she had done nothing wrong, but he didn't have the slightest idea how Duo would do that.

Instead, he smiled and thanked her solemnly, and got out of the kitchen as soon as he could.

The cart rolled soundlessly down the carpet, and Trowa thought about Wu Fei and Duo alone in the dining room. Duo had a strange fixation on the people he considered to be his friends from the war. There had been a time when Trowa knew firsthand that they could ask anything of Duo, and he would do his best for them. So, Trowa knew that Duo was probably happy to see Wu Fei, and spend time with him again, just as he was probably happy to see Quatre, despite the fact that Quatre was not happy to see him.

But there was something else going on with Duo, and Trowa felt a small tinge of guilt. He probably should not have fled so quickly.

He paused before opening the door, and considered the fact that somehow *he* had become the person that Duo was most at ease with. It made him feel something in his chest that he was unaccustomed to feeling.

He opened the door, and immediately the sound of Wu Fei laughing slipped out into the hall. Trowa didn't move for a second, because he was sure that he had never heard Wu Fei laugh before.

Duo was sitting just where he had been, but he was leaning as far away from Wu Fei as he could, looking at the other man laugh with a blend of disbelief and horror.

Trowa cleared his throat, and pushed the cart over to the table.

Duo's eyes widened, and he whistled. "Damn, Tro, what did you do? Take over the kitchen staff? How many people did you think we were going to be feeding?"

"This is apparently what two Gundam pilots eat for breakfast." Trowa sat down, and looked at the cart as if he had no idea how to proceed.

Duo chuckled cynically. "I had no idea. Did you?" Trowa shook his head, and Wu Fei laughed again.

"No wonder you two are so skinny." His charcoal eyes were twinkling merrily, and Trowa was reasonably certain that it was the first time he had ever seen Wu Fei do anything that vaguely resembled 'twinkling.'

Duo protested immediately with a "Hey!"

Trowa nodded. "I'm not skinny."

"Hey!" Duo smiled and poked Trowa in the ribs. Trowa only half moved away from Duo's touch.

Wu Fei shook his head. He reached out suddenly and took Duo's wrist in his hand, reaching around it with his middle finger and thumb. "How can you deny it, Maxwell? Look how thin you are. Please. Try to take better care of yourself."

Duo flushed brightly, and pulled his hand out of Wu Fei's grasp quickly. He reached over and took a plate, turning his back on Wu Fei completely. "Don't worry about me, Fei." His tone of voice was serious and bitter, which was only partially masked by how quietly he spoke.

Wu Fei sighed, and drained his teacup. "We do worry about you, Duo. But we also trust you." He smiled at both Duo and Trowa, and stood up. "I don't want to interrupt your breakfast, so..."

Even obviously uncomfortable, Duo looked up at Wu Fei and tried to stop him. "No, you don't have to go..."

Wu Fei shook his hands in front of him, grinning dangerously. "No, if Barton gets to whistle-blowing, I certainly don't want to be around."

Trowa picked a piece of toast off the tray and ignored Wu Fei. Duo laughed. "Tin whistle! I got him a tin whistle for Christmas!"

Wu Fei blushed at the misinterpretation that Duo allowed him to think that he had made. "Regardless. I will see you at dinner. I should find that damned Po woman and make sure she hasn't gotten herself into any trouble." He waved cheerfully at them goodbye, and Trowa paused in his eating to reply.

Duo watched the door close apprehensively. "Do you suppose he and Sally are really...?"

"She's twice his age." Trowa spread some buttery substance on his toast, and sighed at the piles of food that were destined to be left uneaten.

"She's not that old!" Duo protested with a grin. "She's only, like, what... well, she was a doctor in the war..."

"She's old," Trowa dryly replied.

Duo sighed, and winked at Trowa. "Love looks not with the eyes."

"Still. It has taste." He poured himself a drink from the first carafe he put his hand on, enduring the cranberry juice out of laziness.

Duo winked at Trowa. "I don't know. I put up with your crap..."

Trowa sniffed with dignity. "Please. You are lucky to have me."

Duo seemed ready to reply, but then he bit back what he was going to say. He examined his bagel wistfully. "Wu Fei said that he... he always admired me. Wanted to be more like me." Duo paused, his bagel dipping lower and lower until it rested on the plate. "Why would he say that?"

The look in Duo's eyes and the tone of his voice were so authentic and earnest, Trowa found himself searching for an answer that would satisfy. "I suppose he said it because it was true."

Duo searched Trowa's face for a moment, narrowing his eyes. "How could that be?"

Trowa took a sip of the cranberry juice, and softened his expression. "Maybe he's always wanted really long hair."

A pause, and then Duo started laughing so hard that Trowa was afraid he would fall out of his chair.

~*~

Christmas dinner was much more relaxed than the previous dinners. They had set up the grand dining room with so many trees that they formed a maze, affording each table some privacy. Relena had presents for all the Gundam pilots at her table, and she gleefully hugged and kissed the cheeks of each pilot, even Heero, who tried to squirm away from her.

Duo blushed when saw the palmtop computer that Relena got him. It was a much more lavish and expensive gift than she gave anyone else, including Heero. Duo mumbled some apology about not getting her anything, but Relena scoffed at his apology. She kissed him again on his cheek, and Trowa had to repress the desire to laugh at the sight of Duo's blush.

That night, they stayed up late, sitting around a fire, sometimes talking, sometimes listening to music. Quatre wanted Trowa to play with him, but Trowa just pulled Duo closer into his arms. It was quiet.

The next morning, Duo and Trowa packed their bags to leave. They were going to be the first ones of the 'Gundam Five' to go, and they couldn't get out of there fast enough. It was annoying to wait for a porter to come and get their bags when they could easily carry them themselves, and it was annoying to stand in the grand foyer, where anyone could just come and congregate and watch, and say goodbye to people neither had seen in ages, in a parody of a tearful occasion.

Relena tried to convince them that they didn't need to leave, but Duo remained adamant, and finally Relena gave up, throwing her arms around Duo's neck, and speaking into his ear. Trowa watched, his arms folded over his chest, his eyes piercing.

Heero appeared next to Trowa while Trowa was watching Relena and Duo. "They look cute, don't they? Ah, in another world, perhaps, where Duo isn't such a raging bottom."

Trowa smirked, his attention still focused on his lover. "That's right, you've never had the pleasure of feeling Duo move in you, have you? Ah well."

Snorting, Heero shot back, "Please. A man can take a piss in the sewer, but he isn't going to wash himself in that filth."

Trowa sneered. "What you need, Heero, is to go off someplace where there are no people, and take the time to fuck yourself royally."

Heero grinned. "You think you have things so well settled, don't you? You think he's yours, but he won't ever be. He swore to me that he would love me until the day that he died; he is mine. And you don't even know him at all. Look at him, shaking like a leaf just because someone is hugging him. You know what he needs, don't you? But you can't give it to him, can you. Do you think he'll go without, be the good boy and stay by your side? Or... do you think he'll go to where he knows he can get it, and get it good?"

Trowa felt his blood freeze, a coldness that got darker and deeper with each venomous phrase. If he could have broken the ice to respond, he wouldn't have had time. Quatre was there to say goodbye, and Malakeh demurely bowed a farewell. Then Wu Fei was shaking their hands as they left, and Relena gave them each one last kiss, and they were in the car to the airport.

Trowa was numb. He could feel Duo's tension, and a part of him wanted to reach out and touch Duo, reassure him, comfort him, just put his skin on Duo's skin, but he was frozen.

The shuttle was late leaving, and they were delayed in getting off the shuttle because the airport had had a power outage earlier, and some gates were still locked down. The walk to where the car was parked seemed infinitely longer than when they had left, and by the time they got back to the car, it was pitch black outside.

Trowa let the car run for a minute to get the heat going, and Duo picked through his bags nervously, looking for his cigarettes. He pulled out the palmtop that Relena had given him and threw it in the back with derision.

Trowa wanted to tell him that it was a nice gift, and he should take better care of it, but he really didn't care that much.

They both slept that night with their boxers on.

~*~

Trowa placed his coffee cup down. He thought he had *placed* it down, but coffee sloshed over the edge of the cup, and spilled onto his desk, staining the edge of some documents. Trowa did not sigh.

He had not been sleeping lately. He had not been having sex nearly as often. He was tired. And when he got home tonight, there would be at least three calls from Heero logged on his vidphone.

Trowa had decided to hate Heero. He hadn't really decided what to do with the hate. He didn't encounter Heero that often, and if he did, he didn't think that he would hit him or confront him. Unless, of course, Heero confronted him. Which he was almost certain to do. But still.

Trowa's boss was being particularly nasty ever since the holidays had ended. He had, apparently, been gunning to get an invitation to Relena's party from Colonel Une, but was passed over in favor for more competent managers. Since Trowa had not only been at the party, but also seated near the Queen herself, and photographed with her often, his boss decided to exercise his ire on Trowa.

Pushing aside the large pile of reports he had to work on, Trowa cleaned up the coffee spill, and took a sip of coffee, even though it was still too hot, to make the cup less full.

He checked his email, and clicked uselessly on some folders and links. There was nothing new in his inbox, and nothing interesting in any folders to distract him. He wanted to go home, and have sex with Duo for several hours.

The last time they had really taken their time with one another was on New Year's Eve. They spent most of the day naked, touching and holding and licking and moving in one another. Then, Duo had insisted on going out, and Trowa spent most the next day nursing Duo back to health.

And Duo was spending more time talking to Heero. Trowa could tell from the logs. It worried him.

Just as Trowa began the actual work part of his day, Duo showed up in his cubicle.

Duo sat down in the chair in his cubicle, put his feet out in front of him, leaned back, put his hands behind his neck, and craned his neck back so that he could watch the ceiling.

Trowa continued to type, watching Duo from the corner of his eye carefully.

Finally, Duo leaned forward, putting his forehead in his joined hands. "I don't know why you put up with my shit."

Trowa paused from his typing, his fingers still over the keyboard. "I don't mind."

"Yeah." Duo rubbed at his forehead, and Trowa had the impression that there was something Duo was trying to get out. "Well. I cussed out my boss today, and he's put me on notice. I'm kinda fucked right now."

"It'll be ok." It was banal and useless to waste the air necessary to say that, but Trowa didn't know if there was anything that wouldn't have been banal and useless.

Duo laughed humorlessly, and Trowa thought that there were probably other people in the office who were afraid of that laugh. "No, not really... I'm not going to therapy today. I don't feel like being ogled by perverts."

Trowa had forgotten about therapy. "We'll both skip."

Duo shook his head. "You'll get in trouble for nothing. Forget it."

"No," Trowa turned to face Duo, "it's no big deal. I'll just call us in sick."

Duo sighed, and started to rub his forehead again. "He'll know I got written up anyway. It's pointless. I've been a bad boy, Tro."

"I like it when you're bad." Trowa spoke quietly, and he wasn't entirely sure Duo heard him. He picked up the phone quickly, and dialed Dr. Clarkson's office.

Duo watched him from behind his hair. Trowa knew that it had been over a week since Duo had washed it from the way it limped, and didn't catch the light.

"Hello? Yes, this is Trowa Barton. I'm calling to cancel the appointment for Duo Maxwell and myself. ...No, we're not feeling well. ...I can call later when we're ready to reschedule. Thank you."

Duo shook his head. "He's never going to believe that."

Trowa shrugged. "Who cares?"

Duo smiled weakly. "I still don't know why you put up with me. I don't want to spoil anything for myself, but you can do better."

Trowa pushed his chair over so that he was right in front of Duo. He put his fingers on Duo's chin, tracing the line of the bone. He pushed Duo's hair out of his face, smoothing it back. He put his face very close to Duo's and traced Duo's eyebrows and cheekbones. Trowa smiled at Duo.

"Stay? You can keep me company."

Duo blinked. He had been holding his breath, his lips barely parted as if he were anticipating a kiss. He shuddered as he breathed again. "Won't your boss get mad?"

Trowa winked. "Let me tell you a secret..." Trowa leaned forward, his cheek to Duo's cheek, the friction of their combined scruff sending a thrill down Trowa's spine. He spoke with his lips touching Duo's ear, his voice soft and as seductive as he could make it. "I hate my boss."

Duo started to laugh, and he leaned forward and put his hands on Trowa's waist as his laughter became more frantic. He put his chin on Trowa's shoulder, and stopped laughing instantly. His arms snaked around Trowa, still loose, but now his hands touched Trowa's back. "Thank you, Trowa. I think I... I guess I will stay with you.

"Since you've got nothing better to do anyway."

~*~

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