Rattlesnakes + Part 1 (cont)

"You asked how things were. I said fine." Trowa's level gaze never wavered, and neither did his voice.

Duo seemed amused, because he smiled and nodded approvingly, which only made Trowa feel more rigid.

Dr. Clarkson frowned, and started scratching the paper with his pen. "Hm. How have you been sleeping? Have you had any nightmares?"

Trowa considered his sleeping patterns to be personal information, and Duo obviously agreed as he narrowed his eyes and glared at the doctor as if he were the enemy. Just as he was beginning to work past the catch in his throat so that he could speak, something rather unexpected happened.

Duo started to yawn, and as he did, he stretched his arms above his head and arched his back and angled his hips upward, so that his head tipped back over the edge of the couch. As he did so, his shirt rode up, until his entire stomach and a good portion of his upper chest was visible. When he relaxed, he kept his head tilted back, and his body was still draped over the couch, so his shirt didn't fall back into position. His arms slowly fell back into place, and as they did, his hands ran over his face and down his chest, until they flopped in between his legs. He resituated himself, lifting one leg up and tucking the other one under, so that he was sitting in half Indian style. He then picked up the end of his braid and started to play with it.

Trowa hadn't realized that Dr. Clarkson was so distracted by Duo's little show until he heard the pen hit the floor. The good doctor didn't seem to notice though, as he was staring glassy-eyed at Duo.

Duo smirked and raised an eyebrow triumphantly at Trowa.

Confused, Trowa just sat back and relaxed a little.

It was a good half a minute later before Dr. Clarkson came out of his reverie. "Oh! Um, where were we?"

"Well, Trowa and I were just sitting here while you went off and had one of your little fantasies." Duo smirked playfully, flicking the hairs at the end of his braid absently.

Dr. Clarkson flushed a brilliant red, and started to make a long series of unintelligible noises as he reshuffled his papers, his head bent down as he searched for his pen. Once he was pretty well back in order, he sighed, and tried again, keeping his head down. "All right, Mr. Maxwell, how about you? How many drinks did you have this week?"

"I don't know. I lost count around Sunday. And don't call me Mr. Maxwell. It's very off-putting." Duo grinned casually, twisting around a little so he could lean the side of his face on the top of the couch. "Do you mind if I have a smoke?"

"Yes." Dr. Clarkson spoke sharply, his fingers clutching the clipboard tightly. "Did you see your lover this week?"

Duo rolled his eyes. "If I've told you once, I've told you a million times, he's not my lover, he's my fuckbuddy. And yes, I did. Shall I describe it?" Duo's left hand slipped down to his lap, where his thumb began to caress the inner seam of his pants.

Dr. Clarkson's eyes were riveted to that thumb. He had to swallow four times before he was able to speak. "Do you have any new bruises?"

"I'm not sure," Duo responded, his face imitating confusion. "Would you like to check?"

The doctor definitely wanted to check, if his expression was any indication. Clearing his throat, the doctor began to once again shuffle through the papers. Trowa wondered what they were. Perhaps he was shuffling through pictures of naked people. Maybe they were pornographic letters. Maybe they were his tax forms.

Duo smiled shyly at Trowa as the doctor continued to evade their eyes. Trowa didn't feel inclined to acknowledge it, but it was a friendly gesture. It was exactly the sort of thing the Duo did all the time during the war that annoyed Trowa so much. Quatre, he could understand. It was, presumably, easy to be genial and kind when one has lived in the lap of luxury, surrounded by loving family all one's life. But Duo was open and charming, and he had grown up an orphan on L2. That just wasn't right.

"How is work going?"

The question jarred both the young men on the couch. Since Trowa seemed as likely to speak as the coffee table, Duo spoke up first. "Fine. Same boring shit. I've been there every day, right on time, like a good boy should."

Trowa nodded, hoping that would alleviate any need on his part to actually say something.

Dr. Clarkson frowned. "Have you had any incidents with your superior?"

Duo scowled. "No."

"There's a report. He said that you used offensive language."

"I called him a prick, but it wasn't an incident. It wasn't even on Preventors time." Duo folded his arms over his chest protectively, and his whole posture changed from lazily seductive to cornered animal.

"Did you call him a name?"

"Do you even care what the circumstances are? Does it matter what he said? He only wants to keep me on report so that I can't get out of that garage. He can keep me stuck there, and then I can do all his work, and he doesn't have to worry about me becoming his superior."

"Duo, you can't advance until you demonstrate that you've reformed. You haven't been able to go two months without skipping work or showing up drunk or hung over. You are the one that has the power to improve yourself, but you have to admit responsibility first."

Duo huffed, blowing air out to move his bangs out of his eyes. "I'm not responsible for him being a fat lazy prick."

Trowa nearly wanted to smile. It was true. Half the Preventors who weren't in the field were either ex-Oz or ex-Alliance officers and enlisted men and women who were unqualified for their positions, really, but their former rank carried more weight than it should. In fact, when the Preventors had initially been formed, they had been in such need of people who were used to military-style hierarchy that anyone who had been in Oz, the Alliance, or even White Fang was admitted, as long as they passed the psychological profile. As the organization was growing, and more new recruits were coming in, many of these people were in fear for their job. Trowa's boss was like that too, promoting people who made him look good while more qualified and skilled people were given bad reviews.

Dr. Clarkson appreciated the sentiment far less, however. "Duo, this attitude of yours isn't going to get you anywhere. You need to start putting aside these resentments that only foster your negative behaviors."

Duo rolled his eyes. "Doc, I appreciate your attempts to crawl inside my head, but I'm not copping an attitude here! The guy's a prick. It's not any more or less true because I said it. He wants to write me up, that's his business, I guess. It doesn't bother me."

"But it will keep you from ever getting a chance to get back your pilot's license." Dr. Clarkson tapped his pen against the clipboard, looking at Duo over the rim of his glasses in a disapproving manner.

Trowa looked from Dr. Clarkson to Duo. That was very interesting. Trowa had lost his license, too, and it was a sore subject for him. There was something particularly galling about being denied a piece of paper to fly a shuttle when you once manned a Gundam.

Duo clearly felt the same way, as a nasty expression crossed over his face. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Duo tipped his head back and looked to the ceiling. Reading the cracks for clues as to how to react, Duo scratched an itch above his collarbone. By putting his hand under his shirt at the waist and lifting the hem all the way up to his neck.

When he was done, he met Dr. Clarkson in the eye, or, rather, he tried to, as Dr. Clarkson was still staring at his one exposed nipple.

"I guess you're right. I've got a bad attitude and I'm destroying my life and it's all my fault. But it could be worse, right? I mean, at least I'm not a disgusting pervert." Duo's voice was steady and calm, and Trowa felt a little reflected triumph.

Dr. Clarkson kept himself from falling out of his chair, but his papers weren't so lucky. At least the act of picking them up, and again reshuffling them, afforded him the opportunity to hide his face.

"Well." The doctor spoke in clipped tones. "It appears that our hour is up. This will be the regular time from now on. We'll see each other next week."

"Doc?" Duo didn't make the slightest effort toward moving. When the doctor continued to ignore him, he began again. "Don't forget our reviews."

Dr. Clarkson got up angrily, and went to his desk. Marking a few papers quickly, he turned back, holding one sheet out to each man. "Here. Next week."

Duo bounced up brightly. "Thanks, Doc!" Winking, he took his form and headed off to the reception area.

Trowa got up much more slowly, and took his form deliberately. He turned away and walked out, his shoulders back as his demeanor dismissed the doctor from his attention.

In the hallway, Duo was waiting, holding the elevator for Trowa. He didn't bother to say anything, though, which Trowa was grateful for, even though he distrusted Duo's silence.

When they were leaving the building, Duo turned to Trowa and spoke for the first time. "Which way are you going?"

Trowa shrugged, indifferently, and pointed vaguely to the west.

Duo grinned. "Me too. Hold up a sec." He pulled out a packet and a lighter from an inner pocket in his long trench. As soon as he had the cigarette lit, he replaced the packet and the lighter, and cinched his trench shut as if he were embarrassed to be seen dressed as he was. "Er, look, sorry 'bout in there. I mean, if I made you uncomfortable... When I first started this therapy crap, it was pretty intolerable. Then I figured out that the good doc is a pervy old man, and that made the sessions go a lot easier. I think he must have figured that if he had the two of us together, he could control things better, but it seems to me like he's just doubled his trouble." Duo shrugged, still smiling. "Anyway, I'm sorry. I don't mean to come off so..."

"Slutty?" Trowa sniffed the air curiously. Duo's cigarettes were potent.

Duo flinched, and cast his eyes aside. "Yeah. Sorry."

Trowa shrugged. He couldn't precisely figure out why he was even having this conversation with Duo. "What are you smoking?"

"Oh." Duo held out the thin, dark cigarette. "It's a clove cigarette. They're just as stinky and unhealthful as nicotine cigarettes, but more artistic and elitist. Want one?"

"No." Trowa started to walk, his gait slow and steady. He wasn't surprised, exactly, that Duo was following him, but he was a little surprised that it didn't annoy him that much.

"It's been a long time." Duo spoke slightly fondly as they walked. "I haven't even heard anything about you in years. Are you and Quatre still close?"

Trowa carefully stored away his reaction so that even he couldn't see it. "Not so much. He got married... He doesn't have a lot of free time anymore. His wife is expecting another boy in a few months."

"Quatre is married... to a woman? Really?" Duo laughed, once. "And I thought he was a good colony boy... Guess it just goes to show, huh? Ya just never can tell... Oh well. Good for him." Duo nodded uncertainly. "I hope he's happy."

Trowa sifted through proper responses. "I'm surprised you and he didn't keep in touch. His wedding was strictly family, but I thought the two of you were friends."

Duo watched Trowa for a moment, measuring Trowa's intentions, perhaps. "We were. We did keep in touch for a while. Things happen."

Trowa nodded. It certainly was true.

They slowed down as they neared the bus stop. "So, do you mind if I ask what got you stuck in therapy?"

Trowa watched Duo now, measuring his intentions. Duo's eyes were open and clear, as always, and he patiently waited for Trowa to answer, not pressuring him at all. Trowa wondered at himself, that he was even bothering humoring Duo. "I tried to kill myself." He spoke quickly and low, so that only Duo could hear.

Duo nodded once, his expression unchanged.

Trowa was relieved at Duo's lack of judgment. "You?" It seemed polite to reciprocate.

"Drugs." Duo smiled bitterly. "I've been clean for over a year now, but still. You know. Hoops to jump through and all."

Trowa nodded, understanding.

"Say, you got plans?"

Trowa stopped, and turned to look at Duo blankly.

The other man just blithely continued to smile in that way that had always annoyed Trowa so much during the war. "I made a lasagna last night. It's pretty good... but you can only make a lasagna one size, ya know? And I won't finish it before it starts to lose its flower, if ya know what I mean. So, you wanna come over for some lasagna?"

Duo's hands were still in his pockets, and his whole manner was so casual, it really seemed like he didn't care one way or another what Trowa said. Since Duo didn't particularly want him to come over, Trowa nodded once in assent.

Duo shrugged. "'Kay. We'll take the 14 bus, then. That's the one that goes by my place."

They walked the two blocks to Duo's bus stop silently, Duo walking with a sloping pace and Trowa marching grimly. For the whole eight minutes that they waited, they didn't speak or even look at one another, and even though they sat next to each other, no one would have guessed that they knew each other.

Duo pulled the cord when they neared his stop, and they walked off the bus together, not paying the slightest bit of attention to each other.

Duo's neighborhood was nicer than his, Trowa noticed right away, although exactly how it was nicer was not something he could identify precisely. They had to walk four blocks to Duo's building, which was a red brick U-shaped building. Duo lived on the third floor, and the stairs up to his place were bowed in the middle, so it was necessary to be careful walking up them. Duo didn't bother to check his mail, even though Trowa could see that the box marked D. Maxwell was full.

Duo's braid swung back and forth as he walked, especially as he walked up the stairs, and Trowa had to control the impulse to grab it as it swished in front of him. It was much longer than it had been in the war, although it was only a few inches below Duo's ass, so it probably had been cut at some point, or perhaps trimmed regularly, or perhaps Duo's hair just grew very, very slowly.

Trowa scowled as he realized he was thinking a lot about Duo's hair.

Duo had to lean against the doorjamb to pry the keys out of his pocket. He had to jingle the keys around before he was able to unlock the door.

His apartment was messy, but not so much that it was disgusting. He had a lot of books and boxes and magazines and such stacked around, but there was plenty of room to walk around. There were plenty of bookshelves and cabinets and crates lined up against the wall, storing Duo's impressive collection of books, cds, dvds, a television, dvd player, stereo system, and game station. Across from the tv, against the other wall, was a wide, long brown plush couch with a low coffee table in front of it. On the coffee table, Duo had a large, full ashtray, four coasters, two empty glasses, and the latest magazines for cars, space ships, sports, and colony news.

Duo grinned as he watched Trowa examine the room. "Make yourself comfortable. I'm gonna change. These clothes... aren't really comfortable."

Trowa wasn't sure if Duo was embarrassed or not, but the other man ducked his head and disappeared quickly. Trowa stood in the center of the room, eyeing the furniture as if he wasn't entirely sure he might not be attacked if he let his guard down. When enough time had passed for Trowa to become bored and reasonably certain Duo's couch wasn't going to lunge at him, he listlessly began circling the room, taking note of random bits of junk as he went.

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