title: Rattlesnakes
fandom: Gundam Wing
characters/pairings: Duo/Trowa, Duo/Heero, past/one-sided Quatre/Trowa, Quatre/OFC, past/one-sided Relena/Heero
rating: Mature
warnings: violence, drugs, abusive relationship, depression, suicidal tendencies, cutting, non-con sexual situation, sex, bad language
summary: Duo and Trowa are forced to try group therapy.
notes: see notes

The timer was ringing, but Trowa was still washing his hands. The light in the bathroom was unnecessarily bright, and it made his skin appear a little sickly. The mirror had a small crack in the bottom left hand corner, and Trowa's eyes were fixed on the crack and the way it caught the light.

His hands had been under the hot water long enough to be pinkish. There was still dirt under his nails.

He turned the water off slowly, the feel of the metal on his hot hands almost inconsequential. The tiles were white, and the grout should have been blue, but it badly needed cleaning. He didn't bother to dry his hands as he left, neither did he turn off the light. The trail of light on the gray carpet lead to the kitchen, but Trowa went the other way to go to the dark bedroom.

The window in there looked out over the side alley, and from it Trowa could see the wet road, and two people talking close together in a doorway two buildings down. He couldn't make out whether they were male, female, or one of each, so he watched them until they separated, one going inside the door and the other walking away.

He still didn't know what gender they were.

Sighing, he got up, his hands now cold, and went to the kitchen to pull the burned tv dinner out of the oven. Plopping the contents onto a plate disinterestedly, he went into the living room to watch some porn.

He sat down on the couch, watching the screen unblinkingly as he mechanically lifted the fork to his mouth again and again. He didn't taste the food, nor did he really see the screen. He had properly put himself into that fuzzy frame of mind where nothing was really happening, and he could just go blank for a while.

When the vidphone rang, he nearly stabbed himself in the cheek with the fork.

He moved like an old man, putting the plate down on the coffee table and getting up. He didn't want to talk to anyone, but he certainly didn't want to talk to either of the people who might have been calling him. If it was Quatre, he didn't want to pretend to be interested long enough to carry off the conversation, and if it was Catherine, he didn't want to have to be rude to her to make her leave him alone.

The number of the caller helpfully blinked, and Trowa sighed as he moved out of the line of the camera's eye. He never let anyone see him when he talked on the vidphone.

"Hello, Catherine."

"Trowa! It's so good to hear your voice... Can I see you?"

"No." He briefly considered elaborating, but before he could come to a conclusion, his 'sister' continued without him.

"Oh. How is it going? What did you have for dinner tonight?"

Trowa didn't even bother trying to remember what he had been eating. Instead, he tried to remember what he had told her the last time she called. "Beef Stroganoff."

"Good, good... So, how's work?"

Work was the same. Work was always the same. Why did she even bother asking? It's not like anyone was going to allow him to change. "The same."

"Did you talk to Quatre this week?"

He flinched, involuntarily, and then chastised himself for doing so. "Yesterday."

"How's he? It's been ages since I've seen him."

"Then you should call him." He didn't want to be short with her. Catherine was the closest thing he was ever going to get to a family. But, if he wasn't mean, he knew from experience, she would never get off the phone.

"I... Sorry. How was therapy?"

"I don't discuss my therapy with anyone, Catherine." It was the same thing he said to her every week when she called, but she apparently enjoyed the repartee they had developed, and never wished to deviate from the script.

"Did you go to the gym this week?"

"No."

"The circus has been really packed lately. We're on one of those newly rebuilt colonies, and they haven't had any live entertainment since they rehabitated. I guess everyone considers it part of their civic duty to support traveling entertainers, you know, to encourage more cultural events. It's amazing, really, being considered a cultural event! Let me tell you, it's a damn sight better reception than we usually get! I think I've met everyone who lives in the colony... we even went to the schools to show them some of our acts, and do some hands on demonstrations. There was this one boy, I think he might be gunning for your job with the lions..."

"I'm busy, Catherine."

"Oh." He could hear her face crumple.

He didn't want to hurt her. She was the only person who really cared about him, but... Catherine didn't know him. She couldn't. She wouldn't let herself.

"I... I don't want to keep you. I'll email you with all the circus news."

He nodded, even though he knew she couldn't see.

"We all miss you, Tro."

'But you were the one who wanted me to take this job, Cathy,' he thought. 'You were the one who thought I would be safer here, with my therapist and my privacy. You thought I needed space, and to be closer to my friends, to people who understood me. That's what you thought, so since you thought it, you decided it was right, that's what I did. I didn't want to leave the circus. I wanted to stay there. I wanted to...' He didn't bother to finish that thought. It wasn't going to take him anywhere. "Talk to you later, then."

"Bye." He saw just a flash of her as she hung up, her eyes down.

A drowning sense of nothing filled him, and for a moment, which stretched, he could do nothing but stare at the blue screen of the vidphone.

With an abrupt, almost violent gesture, he disconnected, and went back to the futon.

The movie had gotten to the part he hated the most, when the girls were pleasuring the man. He was fat, and hairy, with a slightly receding hairline and ugly, wet eyes. He turned the tv off, and put his back down on the couch, and stared at the way the lights from the street danced on the ceiling. They moved for hours, and then there were fewer and fewer of them, until there was none at all for long, long stretches.

When the pale, useless light of the predawn filtered in, he closed his eyes long enough for the light to get bright enough to annoy.

Getting up with a groan, Trowa pushed his hands throw his hair roughly. Another day.

After a too-quick shower and some yogurt for breakfast, he flipped through his personal calendar. He never had much scheduled, but he had trouble keeping one day separate from another in his head, so he needed the calendar to remind him of his few obligations.

In square letters written with a red ink pen, the word Appointment was next to 2:00pm. Trowa nearly groaned.

His therapy sessions used to be on Tuesdays, which was nice, because by the middle of the week, it was already over with, but on Monday he had gotten a call to reschedule his regular appointment for Thursdays. He had spent most of Monday night whiting out the Tuesday notations, and adding Thursday notations, and then had promptly forgotten it.

Losing any zeal he may have been able to work up for the day, he sighed and left, neglecting to put on a tie.

He also forgot to tell his supervisor that he needed to leave until 1:20, when he was getting ready to go, but it didn't matter much. His job title was Data Supervisor, but he may as well have been called Mindless Mouse Pusher for all the good he did. On the bus on the way to the doctor's office, he had forgotten to slip his Preventers tag into his pocket, so three people smiled at him, nodding as if in thanks.

He ignored them, and then forgot to put the tag away again.

He had trouble getting off the bus for his stop, with all the people getting on the bus, but he jumped just as the doors were closing, landing awkwardly on the curb.

If he had fallen, he might have torn his shirt, but no such luck.

It was a three-block walk to the doctor's office building. Trowa moved slowly, passing people whose faces he couldn't see, his whole thought process wrapped around the notion of putting one foot in front of the other. The sunlight bothered his eyes, so he kept his chin down, and his hair almost completely covered his face.

The ride up the to the fifteenth floor was unbearable. The music in the elevator had been carefully crafted to the be most annoying sound that was nearly entirely unlike the Beatles' 'Yesterday' as sound could be while still pretending to be 'Yesterday.' Trowa felt he was quite valiant in his effort to refrain from ripping the carpeting off the wall of the elevator, but it was hard.

The walk from the elevator to the office took precisely seventeen steps, if he measured his steps so that each stride covered two and a half squares of tile. The knob of the door was brass, in need of shining. It had to be turned sharply, or else it didn't catch.

All in all, everything in the last twenty-four hours had proceeded in exactly the same way that any other twenty-four hour period had proceeded, ever since he started the Preventers job and started therapy.

After he opened the door, nothing was the same.

He stood there with his hand still on the knob for a long minute. Normally, the waiting room in the doctor's office was empty. It was a small, narrow room, ornately decorated in rich, red woods and thick, green plush furniture. There wasn't even usually a receptionist, as the doctor prided himself on discretion, and appointments and payments were handled through the patient's workplace. Appointments were scheduled twenty minutes apart, so there was virtually no chance of running into anyone at the office.

He came very highly recommended by the Preventers.

So, when Trowa saw Duo Maxwell standing in the waiting room, looking at a picture on the wall, staring back at him with the same look of shock on his face, it was something of a surprise.

He stepped inside, and let the door swing shut slowly on its own.

The first actual thought that went through his head was how different Duo looked. He remembered Duo being gregarious, a bit over-confident, with an annoyingly persistent smile, and that he was modest. Quatre had told him that, even in desert, Duo always wore long pants and at least two shirts. He might roll up his sleeves, and open up the neck of his shirt, but he was always covered.

So to see Duo, looking a bit thin and pale, wearing a baseball t-shirt with black sleeves and red front and back that was possibly a child size two, and low on the hips leather pants was, again, a bit of a surprise. The thin ribbon of Duo-flesh peeking out where his pants and shirt didn't meet was almost tantalizing in a way that Trowa could feel at the base of his spine.

Since when had Duo Maxwell been attractive?

Trowa cleared his throat, but he still didn't know what to say. There had to be some mistake.

"There has to be some mistake." Duo was fidgeting, his arms folded around his waist as he tried to hide his exposed belly. "Er, but I got a call rescheduling my appointment. This is the right time, I'm sure."

Trowa shrugged, not committed enough to any idea to speak.

"There's no mistake." Dr. Clarkson smiled genially from his office door. "I'm sorry that I changed things without notice, but... Please, come in. I think you two know each other?"

Neither young man moved for a second, not knowing whether to stare at the doctor or at each other. Almost suddenly, Duo sighed, and, shaking his head, took the first step to the door. "Well, Doc, I guess you know what you're doing. Although, if you're afraid of being left alone with us, I don't think you've really improved things."

There was a suggestive tone to Duo's voice, and although Trowa couldn't see his face, he could see the way Dr. Clarkson looked away, seemingly embarrassed. Distrustfully, Trowa followed, keeping his arms folded over his chest.

"Well, well... this is good." Dr. Clarkson still didn't look up as he sat down, arranging his papers and gathering his pens so that he wouldn't have to look at the other men, who were figuring out how to share the couch without having to come in contact with one another. "I should have warned you, but I think this is good, too. You know each other, of course, I've already said that... I think that you can benefit from each other's experiences. You two aren't that different you know, and I think that you can help each other more than anything else. Well. Yes."

Trowa stared straight ahead, pretending not to notice the way that Duo seemed to be laughing with his body language. He also pretended not to notice the way that Duo stretched out on his end of the couch, flipping his long braid over his shoulder so that it lay over his chest, landing conspicuously over his crotch. He bristled at the thought of being compared to Duo Maxwell, but he sure as hell wasn't about to let on that he did, and the very notion that Duo, of all people, would be able to help him...

Trowa's brow knit, and he glared straight ahead, doing his best to distance himself from this indignity.

"Now, I know this is unorthodox," Dr. Clarkson wheedled, taking in his patient's expressions. "But just think of this as a test. Just another step in the therapeutic process. If you are uncomfortable, we can discuss this, but I really feel this is the best thing for both of you. As such, I expect your cooperation."

Duo's eyes narrowed, and Trowa was almost glad for a moment that it was Duo who was enduring this with him, as Duo would certainly speak out for the both of them.

"In other words, Doc, you don't intend to sign off to let the Preventers know that we are being good little boys and tending to our damaged psyches unless we sit still and do as you say. That could be called blackmail, you know..." Duo's voice dropped into a low, seductive register as he kept talking, dropping his chin so that he delivered his mild accusation while looking through his long bangs.

Dr. Clarkson adjusted his position in the chair uncomfortably. "Now, Duo, let's not get into any nasty details. I do think this would be for the best, so I don't think we can call this extortion. You do both work for the Preventers, and yes, you do both need my release to keep working... But we should focus on our goals, not our obstacles. The goal here is better mental health, and given your shared past... er, in the war, I think that this sort of group therapy method would be most effective. Now. Let's talk about our weeks. Trowa, how are things going?"

Trowa continued to sit and glare at the doctor. There wasn't even anything he could think of to say. He was basically stuck in this situation. He hadn't even wanted to talk to Dr. Clarkson, but because of Catherine and his job, he was forced to; and now he had to add Duo to the mix, and why was Duo even in therapy? He was never lacking in people to fawn over him...

Apparently, Trowa had taken long enough to mull the question, because Dr. Clarkson tapped his pen impatiently against his clipboard. "Trowa. Remember what we've discussed about trust. You have to let other people in."

Duo snorted, and looked disgustedly at the ceiling.

Trowa chose to ignore him. "Fine."

"E-Excuse me?" Dr. Clarkson questioned, confused.

"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 Preventers 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 Preventers 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 Preventers 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.

There was a bowl full of coins on top of a copy of A Clockwork Orange on the low bookshelf. There was a pair of yellow socks under the tv table. The throw bunched up between the top of the couch and the wall was flannel, and it had a stain of some sort on it, only just visible as it was all rolled up. One of the glasses on the coffee table had a distinct alcoholic tinge to it, and the other had a coffee stain on the edge.

There was a photograph of Heero and Relena on the wall between the hallway and the kitchen. Heero had his arm around Relena's waist. He was in a tuxedo, and Relena was wearing a fancy ball gown. Relena was grinning from ear to ear, her whole face beaming, and Heero was glaring lazily into the camera.

"That's from their engagement party." Duo was slouched against the wall next to Trowa, wearing a black long sleeved shirt and baggy black jeans. Trowa did a good job of ignoring the fact that Duo showed up totally silently. "I'm surprised that you weren't there."

Trowa hadn't realized that Heero and Relena were engaged. "I'm surprised that you are so casual about it."

Duo responded with a cheeky grin and a raised eyebrow.

"I was under the impression you were more... invested in Heero." Trowa leaned back on his feet, his eyes half-closed in vague disdain.

"Ah." Duo cocked his head to the side, examining the picture critically. "I am, I suppose. That's why I always wished it could work out between them. I always felt like... she had something that he needed, something he didn't understand. And they were both so innocent... I really wanted them to click."

Trowa lowered his chin so he could examine Duo from under his bangs. "What makes you think it won't work between them? You just said they were engaged."

"Yeah, but he's been fucking me for three years." Duo sighed. "So, you hungry? It'll just take me a minute to heat up the lasagna."

Trowa watched Duo slouch off to the kitchen, blinking. After a moment of stupefied inaction, he decided to follow, simply because he couldn't think of anything else to do in this situation.

He watched Duo pull the lasagna out of the refrigerator, humming to himself as he loosened the tin foil cover. Duo tilted his head from side to side as he moved, making his braid sway gently like the limp limbs of a willow tree in the breeze. Trowa sat down solidly at the kitchen table. Duo slid the lasagna into the small oven, fussing over the dials before he turned to set the table. Two white paper napkins with pale blue watering cans in a hexagonal pattern, two forks and knives, the kind with the rounded fake wooden handle over the long end, two beveled glasses, and two thin porcelain plates with a thin blue lines at the edges were each set down in turn as Duo spun efficiently through the kitchen.

"If you are Heero's lover, why is he marrying Relena?" Trowa had waited to speak until he could eliminate any trace of bitterness, which left his voice sounding dull and flat.

Duo smiled. "Heero is not my lover. That would imply that there was 'love', or there was 'affection', or that he 'makes love' to me or something like that. I said he fucks me and that's what I meant. As for why they are getting married..." Duo stepped over to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of wine, half empty. "Do you like red wine?"

Trowa shrugged.

Duo stepped over and poured each of them a half a glass of wine. Trowa watched him, almost disbelieving, as if he was certain that Duo was going to pull out actual wine glasses right up to the moment when the liquid hit the bottom of the tumblers.

"It's a marriage of convenience. See, everyone expects Relena to get married. That's what good girls do. They watch their fathers get murdered, they take over their father's job when they are still children, they become dress-up dolls for old men, then they become the people's bitch, work 'til they're old prematurely and they lose all their idealism, and then they get married and pop out kids to continue the cycle."

Duo, remarkably, spoke without the slightest suggestion of cynicism. "She doesn't want to marry Heero," Duo continued sadly, "but he's the logical choice. See, everyone can ooh and ah over what an amazingly sexy and powerful young couple of world conquering heroes they are, and Relena can keep pushing back the actual wedding date because she's so busy being the people's bitch, and then she can announce that she's leaving public life to have a normal, quiet life, and a few discreet months later, they can dissolve the engagement and go about their merry business."

Trowa watched Duo carefully, measuring each word as he processed it all. "So how did you and Heero start fucking then?"

Duo blinked. "Well, that's a complicated question."

There was a moment of total silence, and then the timer dinged quietly.

Duo got up and pulled out the lasagna, putting it on the table between their plates, sliding off one of his oven mitts to use as a trivet. Trowa recognized it as one of those kits to make a meal that came complete with everything, including the pan. It wasn't big, and there was only half of it left, so Duo cut the remains in half and lifted a half to each of them. He didn't bother to set aside or throw away the now empty pan in the middle of the table, just sat down and took a long gulp of wine.

"Dig in."

They each made motions to cut up their lasagna and shovel it in their throats. It could probably stood to have been heated for longer, but it was at least lukewarm throughout, and anyway, neither was eating that much, though Duo did take a gulp of wine for each bite, no matter how half-hearted.

Trowa watched Duo eat and drink, watched the way Duo's mouth moved, opening for food, and the way his lips touched the glass to drink. He watched the way Duo's little upturned nose stayed above everything, and the way Duo's cheeks would puff out momentarily when they were full. He watched the way Duo kept his eyes on his plate, so they appeared half closed, and his short lashes seemed to curtain his eyes. He watched Duo push his bangs out of his face thoughtlessly twice.

"I never liked you during the war." It sounded completely clinical, as if Trowa were discussing the weather, and he was a little disappointed to see that the cold front wasn't going to be lifting any time soon.

Duo met Trowa's eyes, the right corner of his mouth curling up just enough. "I know. I always liked you okay though."

Trowa blinked, and watched as Duo pushed some lasagna around his plate.

"Damn, do you ever feel like eating is just a chore? You have to make each meal, and shovel it in, and chew, and swallow, and clean up... and then do it all over again a few hours later. It's like some torturously evil way to mark off time in life." Duo regarded his forkful of noodles and sauce and cheese and meat with utter repulsion.

Trowa looked down at his plate of demolished but barely touched lasagna. "I preferred military rations."

"Me, too," Duo smiled at his wine glass, "but they don't sell those anymore, not really. They have those energy bars, but they're too..."

"Yuppie."

"Exactly. Always 'flavored' and 'sweetened'," Duo shook his head, trying to release the memory perhaps.

"They have the ones with chocolate chunks even," Trowa added, clearly less than impressed. "What's the point of a health food if you are going to put chocolate in it?"

"I hate those most of all," Duo replied, blankly, taking a long gulp of wine. "Well, the good thing about eating is, it gives you an excuse to drink."

"Do you need an excuse to drink?"

"No!" Duo laughed, "but I don't like to drink wine unless I'm eating something. Red wine is supposed to be good for you."

"Not that much." Trowa regarded Duo's half a tumbler of wine, quickly diminishing with distrust.

"No, that's true." Duo smiled and finished off the glass quickly.

He stood up and cleared his own plate, sliding the rest of his lasagna into the trash. He put his dishes into the dishwasher without even rinsing them. He took Trowa's dishes as well, since Trowa's arms were folded in his lap, and Trowa wondered idly if he should offer to help.

"Do you mind if I ask you what it is about me that you dislike so much? I mean, we're kinda stuck together, so..."

Trowa watched Duo fill up the soap dispenser in the dishwasher, even though it wasn't even half full. His eyes unfocused as he watched Duo's hands move over the dishwasher controls. "Everything always came so easily to you. People always like you. You and Quatre made friends right away, Wu Fei always said you weren't that bad... I spent months nursing Heero back from the dead." Trowa's eyes narrowed as he relived that past rejection. "I followed him all over, helping him as he foolishly sought out his redemption. I catered to his every whim. And I would ask him if he wanted to eat Italian, and do you know what he would say? 'Duo likes sausage on his pizza.' He'd talk about you all the time, without any provocation."

Duo started, but didn't interrupt Trowa as he spoke. The longer Trowa went uninterrupted, the easier it was to let it out. He hadn't even thought about these things in years.

"When Heero went underground after the first war, he gave us all contact information, but you were the only one he saw. When he realized Relena was in danger, you were the one he went to for help. You weren't even a trained soldier, just a good pilot, but you were the one he trusted. You were the one he preferred.

"He couldn't even hit you without you hitting him first." Trowa looked up, as if that was the last and final piece of evidence.

Duo laughed briefly, sharply. "You're jealous of me because Heero likes me better than you? Hey, you can have him if you want 'im. And he got over that hitting thing, so don't worry."

Trowa blinked as Duo loafed into the living room.

"Hey, you wanna watch a movie?"

Still stunned, Trowa got up and followed Duo, standing uselessly by the couch as Duo flipped through his dvds.

"What do you wanna watch? Violence? Sex? Violent Sex?"

"Something that ends badly." Trowa sat, curling himself slightly against the arm of the couch.

Duo smiled. "I got just the thing." He popped in the disk and went to sit at the other end of the couch. "Do you mind if I smoke?"

Trowa shrugged, shaking his head.

Duo pulled out a bottle of vodka from next to the couch, and poured it into the glass with the coffee stain. He wordlessly offered Trowa some, but Trowa shook his head negatively once.

They watched the movie silently, Duo smoking four of his cigarettes, and going through three glasses of vodka, finishing off the bottle. They watched the last credit roll by, their eyes glazed.

"So. Therapy next week." Duo rested his chin on the cushion between them, his eyes still on the screen as the credit for the dvd company came up.

Trowa nodded, considering. "I suppose... if things get... intolerable, we could use each other. To distract him. Since he's a pervert and all."

Duo blinked, surprised. "You wouldn't mind?"

"I don't really have anything slutty to wear though." Trowa sounded apologetic as he looked at Duo.

Duo flushed, chewing on the edge of the cushion lightly. "That's ok. You're dead sexy, no matter what. Cool."

Trowa blinked four times, trying to process what Duo had said. But then Duo was getting up, so he decided to not bother.

"Want me to call a cab?"

Trowa stood, sticking his hands in his pockets. "No. I'm good."

"Okay." Duo smiled, and it struck Trowa that when he did, and his eyes were in it, Duo was really breathtaking.

Then he decided that he didn't just think that.

"Okay. Next week."

"Next week." Duo opened the door for him, and Trowa stepped into the chilled night air, not bothering to huddle.

He walked away without looking to see if Duo was watching him or if he was waving goodbye.






notes • Part One • Part TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart FourteenEpilogue



BACK