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

His boss called him in to talk to him at 11 am. Trowa stood up heavily and trailed after his boss listlessly. Trowa worked under a man whose name he purposefully never spoke aloud, and who was nearly a full six inches shorter than Trowa. Being male, this seemed significant enough to Trowa that he could not have respected the man, even if he weren't an idiot.

Trowa sat down in the squeaky chair in his boss' office to listen to the lecture on attitude. Trowa didn't think he had a bad attitude. He was fairly certain that anyone who worked in a cloth covered cube with no door and no soundproofing and managed to stay upbeat was a danger to themselves and others.

Even worse than he was.

His boss talked for a total of thirty-five minutes. Trowa didn't even stop at his desk after his boss was done. He headed straight for the elevator, and left the building. He had never gone out the back to the yards before. The guards were very suspicious of him, trying to intimidate him as they scrutinized his identification. Unfortunately for their need to assert their masculinity, Trowa wasn't impressed. It just seemed a little sad to him that they even needed a security guard inside a guarded building to grant access to a limited restriction zone.

The yards themselves were very impressive. In the middle of the city, surrounded by high rises, the Preventers kept their best mechanics to maintain, repair, and even build most of their best transportation vehicles. Most of their space worthy vessels were kept in the Preventers' Space Station, in high orbit around the Earth, but all their ground and air vessels were kept here.

Of course, the Preventers' compound was five square city blocks, and although the buildings were architecturally designed to give the appearance of a dense, three-dimensional mass of buildings, the entire center of the compound was empty, so the yards were large enough to fit several hundred vehicles, including aircraft. That didn't even include the garages, most of which were below ground.

Trowa should have looked up exactly where Duo worked before heading out here. The yards were complex, large, and most of the maintenance workers were in garages.

Sticking his hands in his pockets, Trowa walked diagonally across the yards to the main entrance of the garages, kicking up gravel as he did. He loved the smell of jet fuel. He loved the way planes caught the light on their windshields. He loved the sound of mechanics working on big machinery. He loved the sound of engines.

He kept his eyes straight ahead, and walked with precise steps, slowly, through the yards. He didn't want to get distracted. When he was just a boy, working with the mercenaries, he used to really apply himself to the machines they worked with; there was simply nothing in the world as cool as a mecha.

And the best mecha of them all, bar none, was Heavyarms. He was sure the other pilots felt the same way about their Gundams; they were wrong. His was the best. He had helped assemble it, helped maintain it, and when he became Trowa Barton, it was because it was right. He had earned it. He deserved it.

He hated driving cars. Motorcycles were better, if you had to be trapped on the land. But the best thing of all was being totally free, being in the air, falling fast. Heavyarms was such a large Gundam, aptly named as the center of balance was never in the center of it, so in order to operate it properly, to operate it well, you had to be able to understand the way gravity affected it, you had to be able to move with it.

You had to be able to fly.

Trowa was an acrobat. No one ever taught him. No one ever sat him down on a mat and showed him how to do anything, but he was. He could fly. Being on the trapeze, and being in the cockpit of Heavyarms, it was the same thing. He was free.

He almost never thought about how chained down he was when he wasn't surrounded by aircraft.

He wondered, in order to keep his mind off the itching distraction of flight, how Duo did it. How did he work with all these machines, and stay sane?

Trowa almost smiled.

The receptionist for the garage was a woman in her thirties who wore a lot of makeup. So much so that Trowa found it distracting talking to her. He was a little concerned that maybe a giant chunk would fall off, and he would have to pretend not to notice. She also had hair that was brilliantly red, which really would have been flattering if she hadn't feathered and crimped it.

She smiled at him, and when he asked for Duo Maxwell, she smirked at him. He stared back at her blankly. She called him 'honey.' Trowa disliked her with a casual intensity.

She called the wrong number first. Then she called another wrong number. Then she made a snide comment about Duo 'getting around.' Then she called the right number, but Duo had already gone to the locker room. Trowa continued to stare at her blankly until she directed him there.

Duo was at the sinks. He looked cute in his jumpsuit, his braid trailing down his back, and his cute little rear sticking up.

Trowa blinked. He was uncomfortable with how often he thought about Duo's ass.

Duo was scraping the grease off his hands with Lava soap. He was bouncing his head to something that was playing inside his head.

He looked tired. Trowa wondered how late Heero had stayed last night. It certainly hadn't seemed like he wanted to stay long...

"You brood well."

Trowa inclined his head toward Duo. "Thanks."

Duo grinned. "So, is this a turnabout thing, or what?"

"Work sucks." Trowa sounded bored. "Boss was being a jackass. And I..." Trowa's eyes slipped down to the tile below the sinks. There was a black slime that was so thick, it disgusted Trowa long enough to stop him from saying something he would regret.

Duo shook his hands over the sink, and turned the water off. He wiped his hands over his thighs. "So, let's get some lunch."

Trowa nodded, still staring at the slime. He wondered if it was sentient. He wondered if sentience was an actual, scientific determination, or if it was just a sci-fi thing.

"Hey, what happened to your fingers?"

Trowa was so consumed in his observation of the slime, he hadn't even realized that he had put his hand on the sink closest to him. He lifted his hand as if it were a scientific specimen, and regarded the band aides with a small air of derision. "Oh. Nothing."

"You just decided to just put a bunch of band aides on?" Duo's eyes were narrowed, his gaze determined.

Trowa just blinked at Duo.

Their eyes met, and Duo slowly became more and more rigid. "Why?"

Trowa didn't truly acknowledge Duo's question, but he silently sighed.

Duo clenched his teeth, and lowered his eyes. He threw out his paper towels with more vehemence than the task required. "This way."

Duo led the way out to the street, not bothering to change out of his jumpsuit. He put his hands in his pockets, and as he walked, his braid swayed back and forth, like the pendulum of an organic clock. Trowa walked a step behind him, his eyes on the braid at all time.

He acknowledged to himself calmly that he wanted to feel Duo's hair against his skin.

They stopped at a deli, and got paper bowls of soup. Going to a table in the corner, they sat down, putting their bowls and plastic spoons down before they sat across from each other. Trowa carefully kept his eyes down, watching the soup as he stirred it, absently wishing that he had some crackers or water so he could avoid the actual eating part of eating. Duo watched Trowa wish unabashed fascination.

"You have plans for the weekend?" Duo asked, with conversational stiffness.

Trowa lifted his spoon hesitantly, uncertain of its intentions. "Not really. You?"

Duo shrugged. "I don't like plans much. I'll probably hafta work tomorrow; have a big job that has to be done by Sunday."

Trowa nodded slowly, opening his lips as he raised the spoon the rest of the way to his mouth. "You like working in the garages?"

Duo slurped a spoonful before he considered answering. He swirled the soup with his spoon as he smiled at Trowa. "It's a job. There's a certain... gratification. Things don't work - I fix them - they work. But repair and maintenance has never been my strong suit. I prefer to be behind the wheel."

Trowa nodded, his face drooping lower and lower with each dip, until his chin was practically on his chest. He could still see Duo through his long bangs, but he wasn't sure that Duo could see him. From the small smirk at the corner of Duo's mouth, Trowa suspected that Duo could see right through him. "I don't think I could work in the garages; I try not to think about being grounded too much."

Duo's face settled into a serious blankness. "Well, there's that. Yeah."

For the space of several spoonfuls, there was silence at their table.

Trowa's eyes drifted to a small family at the table closest to them. The mother was trying desperately to control her brood long enough to feed them, but they were rebelling mightily. The woman wore a red sweater and blue jeans, and her hair was pulled back into a tight, but messy ponytail. She looked exhausted.

"Are you gonna ask me about last night, or can we skip that shit?" The question was so abruptly out of place, for a moment, Trowa continued to watch the woman with her children, as if the question had simply been something he had overhead, instead of directed at him.

"What is there to ask?"

Duo slumped in his chair just a little, which only caused Trowa to notice how straight Duo had been sitting. "Nothing, I guess."

Trowa lifted the spoon again. He noticed that Duo had hardly eaten anything. He thought about Duo's back, and how the vertebrae were visible under his skin. He thought about Duo's skin, and how his hand had very nearly been over Duo's groin yesterday. "Do you love him?"

Duo laughed, his eyes cold and tired. "Would that excuse it?"

"I don't understand." Trowa set his spoon down in his soup, and folded his arms in his lap.

Duo didn't need to question Trowa on the layers of his statement. "I don't know if I can explain. I'm not sure I'd want to."

"You don't need to feel you owe me anything." If there was a slight accusation in Trowa's tone, he was nearly certain it wasn't his fault.

Duo pushed his soup away irritably. "There are things that Heero can give me, Trowa. There are things that I can give him."

Trowa nodded, in a mockery of comprehension.

Duo stilled. "I can give as good as I get, you know."

Trowa frowned. "Do you?"

Duo stood up, startling Trowa. "I'm not scheduled for therapy for another six days."

Trowa got up slowly behind Duo. After dumping their soup, Trowa stopped Duo from walking away with a hand on Duo's shoulder. "It just seems to me... that you could do better."

Duo turned to look at Trowa, Trowa's hand still on his shoulder. In a rush, Trowa became completely aware of Duo's proximity to him, and the contact that he was maintaining between them.

When Duo smiled, it made the blood pound in Trowa's ears. "Are we friends now, Trowa?"

Blinking, Trowa only smiled a little in response.

Duo laughed out loud, a piercingly bright and happy sound. Trowa didn't control the urge to squeeze his hand a little, and Duo's hand came up to rest on Trowa's forearm in response.

"You shouldn't worry about me, Trowa. You have your own problems to deal with." Duo spoke and smiled so utterly sincerely, it was endearingly charming.

"My problems bore me," Trowa replied with a shrug.

Duo smiled, shaking his head, and they headed out of the deli.

They walked back to the Preventers' headquarters slowly, taking time to pause and let other people work their way through the masses of humanity trying to get from one place to another. Duo walked with his chin up, his bright face up and his hands behind his back. Trowa kept his hands in his pockets, and watched Duo from half-lidded eyes.

As they were waiting for the light to change, Trowa considered the ugly darkness that choked him whenever he considered Heero's hands on Duo's body. He had told himself that it wasn't jealousy, that it was his nearly nonfunctional sense of morality that informed his reaction to Heero being able to be with Duo. That wasn't entirely true, though, and he couldn't deny it when he was standing close to Duo like this.

He hadn't felt this kind of desire for someone since Quatre. That made him nervous. He didn't want to want anyone like that again. It was too... involving.

The light changed and Duo took off from the curb like a racehorse. Trowa kept up by virtue of his long legs.

Trowa was ready to separate from Duo when they got to the main entrance for the garages, but before he just as he opened his mouth to speak, Duo started to talk.

"Damn. I left my cigarettes in my jacket. Well, I don't really have time anyway... You have another minute?" He wasn't looking at Trowa as he spoke, nor did he wait for a response. Duo was half way through the checkpoint before Trowa caught up. He followed Duo back down to the locker rooms, but this time, Duo led them to the showers.

They slipped into a private shower, and Duo pulled the curtain closed. The lights were dim, but they reflected against the pale green tiles brightly.

Duo unzipped his jumpsuit and pulled it down, all the way to his knees. He was wearing a thin wifebeater underneath, which had black splotches of grease ringing the collar. He hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his black boxers, and suddenly Trowa was standing in a small, poorly lit shower atrium, looking down at Duo Maxwell's cock.

"See? I have some bruises, yes, but they aren't that bad. It's just, sometimes, if you let go, these things happen, you know? Rough sex can be good. The pain... the pain can be good. If anyone should understand that, Trowa, it should be you."

Duo turned so that Trowa could see his bruises. There were long, thin, blurry, yellowish black and blue marks on Duo's hips, and a round mark on Duo's left ass cheek. On his left flank, there was an oblong-shaped bruise. Duo even spread his legs a little, so Trowa could see the marks on his inner thighs.

Duo's words washed over Trowa like water, and he felt like he was drowning. He was critically aware of Duo's cock, and the mass of dark brown curls messily decorating its base. His balls hung behind, looking more than a little loose. Duo's cock wasn't exceptionally long, but it was thick, and it's crown looked weirdly appetizing. Trowa stared blandly down at Duo, and his naked cock and balls, and felt the blood slush loudly though his body. He felt like he could feel his pulse in his wrists.

Duo displayed himself, and Trowa was dimly aware of things other than Duo's cock enough to realize that Duo was looking for benediction. He was waiting to hear that it didn't look that bad. Trowa didn't know Duo well enough to know whether he was looking for assurance or reassurance.

Trowa felt his tongue in his mouth. It felt too large for the space it was occupying. He wanted to put his nose in those curls licking Duo's cock. He wanted to put his tongue underneath it and lick his way up the vein, all the way to the slit at the top. His craving was so specific and detailed, he felt off balance.

He put his hand on Duo's hip, and moved his thumb back and forth over Duo's hipbone, tracing the edge of the finger bruises there. He dragged his eyes up, and found Duo hiding behind his bangs. His other hand came up to brush away the hair falling over Duo's face.

The taste of Duo flooded his mouth, and he badly wanted to take Duo's lips. He gently pulled his hands away from Duo's body. "You don't need to justify yourself to me, Duo. I'm not going to judge you."

Duo weighed things, and Trowa could see his thoughts behind his eyes. He slowly pulled up his boxers and jumpsuit, his eyes still on Trowa. "Yeah. Well. I don't... I don't want you to think that..."

Trowa crossed his arms over his chest. "I still say you can do better."

"Can I." It wasn't a question or a challenge, but there was something in Duo's eyes that made Trowa think of blushing. "Well maybe. And maybe not. It's sorta up to me, isn't it?" Duo zipped up his jumpsuit, and leaned against the tile behind him.

Trowa nodded, tucking his hands under his elbows to keep them from reaching out. "Yeah."

Duo nodded. He seemed to half move away and half stay where he was, an animated movement slightly aborted. "So, what are you doing on Sunday, then?"

Trowa inclined his head to the right. "You don't like to make plans."

Duo smiled and almost laughed. "But I like to know what I'm getting into."

"Call me Saturday night, and find out." It wasn't flirtatious, although Trowa realized that he could have made it sound so after he had said it.

Duo grinned, and nodded.

When Trowa got back to his desk, he opened a few documents that he was supposed to have been working on, but instead he just saw Duo's cock, resting in the curls, and the balls behind them. He dug his fingernails into his thighs right above his knees, and felt the sluggish burn of arousal permeate his flesh. He considered briefly masturbation, and the thought of touching himself, much less touching himself in the office, was enough to repulse the sensation.

At least the image of Duo's cock in his brain kept him awake all afternoon. His boss even commended him for taking his lecture to heart.





Trowa disliked the lamp in his living room intensely. It had been on sale, and economy had dictated its purchase, but it had a red base, and Trowa disliked red. It also had tassels hanging from its shade. It was hideous.

It did, however, provide an excuse to keep the lights in the living room off, as it only compounded its sins of existence when it was turned on. Tonight was strange, though. Trowa had felt oddly energized ever since Duo had exposed himself, and so he was sitting on his couch, attempting to put some buttons on a couple of shirts that had lost them. The shirts had been in a pile in the back of his closet for months now, but it was a way to occupy his fingers and keep his mind from getting too distracted.

He turned the tv on, and despite the fact that he couldn't find anything worth watching, he left it on. It was on the station that showed what was on all the other stations, cycling through the list of programs with cheery jazz music as accompaniment. He pulled the thread through the cloth slowly, careful of his fingers as he did, taking such precise care that each button was taking up to a half and hour to sew onto the shirt again.

Trowa didn't like to use scissors frivolously, so he just tore the thread with his teeth, which made it awfully difficult to thread the needle. He found the almost impossible task of slipping a frayed thread through the narrow opening of the needle soothing in a headache-inducing way.

When the vidphone rang, he poked his finger with the needle. He was so vexed with the tiny prick of blood, he let the 'phone ring nine times before he answered it.

He stood next to the phone, and leaned over a little. He was still out of the line of sight of the camera, but he could see the screen a bit.

"Trowa?"

"Hello, Catherine."

Catherine smiled at the sound of his voice. "Trowa! You sound well. How are you?"

Trowa rubbed his hand over his forearm slowly. "Sure, fine. You?"

Catherine nearly bounced in her seat with excitement. "Oh, I'm fine! You know the circus life... Something new every day, and more trouble in a day than a sane person can deal with in a week. It's great!"

Trowa lowered his head, half of him feeling the urge to smile. "That's good." He spoke too softly for the microphone to pick it up, so Catherine barreled onward.

"Sasha has a new cat. She's been too involved with acclimating the other cats to do most of her chores. Everyone's been really supportive, though, and helping out. Even the ringmaster!"

Trowa nodded, his throat a little too choked up for him to speak. He missed the cats and other animals second to only Catherine. Sasha had been hired to take Trowa's place in the circus; he had never met her, nor did he ever hope to do so.

He let her chat on happily about the circus, the new guy she was training for her knife throwing act, the new acrobat, and the last time she had tried to go out with the girls for a few drinks.

Her voice was hardly soothing, but Trowa found himself getting tired from listening to her. His head dipped rhythmically. He felt a little like he was having a pleasant dream, and the effect was so hypnotic, he never even thought to interrupt her.

Catherine was so excited to be able to talk to her 'brother' for more than five minutes, she barely even noticed that he wasn't talking back to her. Trowa was waiting for when she would ask him about therapy, like waiting for the dream to pick up the recurring thread of a nightmare. But she kept talking, sometimes betraying sense of nervousness, and sometimes sounding perfectly happy to babble on endlessly.

"Oh, Trowa, I nearly forgot!" He lifted his head, waiting for the pendulum to swing the other way. "Remember Kat and Vic? And the circus they were forming? Well, it's really taking off, and they are going to be setting up near you soon! I think they are putting up the tents this weekend at the... wait, let me check... damn, I had it here a minute ago... something like Janeyes Fairgrounds... no, wait, here it is... Jamesay Fairgrounds. That's close to you now, right?"

Trowa inched his face around the edge a little more, so he could see Catherine better. "Yeah." He spoke exactly loudly enough so that he could be heard.

Catherine smiled broadly. "Great! You should visit them! I know they'd love to see you. Everyone misses you so much. You should call sometime..."

Feeling a little of the bitterness that often overtook him when talking to Catherine, Trowa retreated to the wall, leaning back until he was sitting on the floor. He let Catherine talk for another few minutes before he cut her off.

"I'm really tired, Catherine."

"Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't realize... and I've just been going on and on... Sorry! Well... sleep well, Trowa." She sounded desperately hopeful.

He thought that he should probably feel a bit guilty for that, but he couldn't. "'Night." He turned the 'phone off from the floor quickly.

Sitting there, the living room suddenly felt inordinately bright. It was like moving through cement, getting on his feet and turning off the light. He left the pile of shirts where they were. Perhaps in the morning he would feel like tackling them again.

He showered quickly, washing his hair mechanically. He forgot to shave, which irritated him when he was dressing for the night, but not enough to bother doing anything about it.

Just as he was about to get into bed, he thought about asking Duo to go with him to the circus. That thought was immediately followed by the hope that Duo didn't already have plans with Heero.

He then felt too weary for bed, so he sat in the window to watch the night in the alley.

It was a source of constant vexation to him that there weren't even a single alley cat or rat in his neighborhood.





Saturday almost didn't exist for Trowa. He moved in such painful slowness through the day that each moment stretched out to the point of tearing apart. His limbs felt like they were weighted down, and when he moved from room to room, it was like walking through water.

At some point, he fell into bed, and once there, he came to the conclusion that since he was planning on being in bed again later in the day, it would be more efficient to stay in bed. He didn't sleep, actually, but he found some strange relaxation in being immobile with soft, cottony sheets enwrapping him. For hours on end, he would rub his cheek against his pillow, and watch his hair fan out around his forehead.

When the 'phone rang, he wasn't even sure what day it was. He was pretty sure he didn't want to get out of bed, but it kept ringing and ringing and ringing... It was easier to get out of bed then to try to pretend he wasn't hearing it.

Quatre wasn't usually so insistent, and Catherine had just called. Suspicious, Trowa clicked the 'phone on from the side, and stood carefully out of view, only barely able to see the screen himself.

"Trowa? Ya there, man? Damn it, Trowa, get in front of the 'phone!"

Trowa grinned to himself. Duo certainly had a way with language. "Yeah."

Duo glared at the screen, waiting not so patiently for Trowa to appear. "Finally. I forgot who was going call who. So, didja still wanna do something today?"

Trowa blinked twice. "There's a circus setting up out of town. We can take a train out, check it out. I know the people who run it."

Duo just stared blankly at the screen for a moment before reacting. "Um, great. 'Cept, let's not be at the mercy of a train schedule. I can get a ride; meet you at yours in an hour?"

"You have a car?"

"I have access to a car."

"You aren't going to steal one, are you?" Trowa didn't really distrust Duo, but it was better to be very clear in situations involving felonies.

"Relax, Trowa. You'll be ready?"

Trowa nodded slowly, not really sure what he was responding to, watching as Duo smiled at him. He turned off the 'phone quickly before Duo's smile reached the stunning point. It was still too early in what was apparently a day for him to be stunned.





Trowa went down to the lobby five minutes after Duo said he would be there. He wasn't doing anything else. He combed his hair until he got bored of the repetitive motion, and then he straightened his shirt, then he stood in the kitchen with his refrigerator door open, trying to determine if he had anything in there he might bring along for the trip.

He ambled down the stairs, checking seven times to be sure that he had his keys. When he got to the door, he was annoyed that he hadn't thought to ask Duo what kind of car he would have.

It wasn't really an issue, though, as Duo was right outside the door, standing next to his car, carelessly, ignoring everyone's dirty looks. Trowa shook his head once. He hated it when people double-parked.

The car was sedate, and silver. This seemed so utterly incongruous to Trowa that for a moment, he doubted his eyesight. It was an ordinary, slightly classy, four-door sedan. And it was silver. There was no way this was Duo's car.

"You ready to go?" Trowa never liked it when people started trips like that. Of course he was ready to go; otherwise, he would still be in his apartment.

He walked to the passenger door, waiting resignedly for Duo to move so he could get in. Duo chuckled, his eyes lowered. He had on sunglasses, which Trowa found disconcerting, as if he had lost his internal compass, and he no longer could find his balance. Duo opened the door gentlemanly, exaggerating his gestures as he made room for Trowa to slip into the passenger seat.

The seats were leather. This upset Trowa on an aesthetic level. They were too plush for his image of a road trip with Duo. The whole day was not working out as he had visualized it, and it made him feel like he was intruding somehow on Duo's time.

Duo popped into the car quickly. He didn't bother to buckle up before he put the car into gear and sped off, edging his way into traffic aggressively. Making his way quickly to the expressway, he chattered at Trowa until they were both at ease enough for some quiet.

Trowa watched as Duo buckled up as he merged into the expressway. Traffic was heavy, the weekend warriors off on their carefully planned adventures were keeping the expressway filled, but traffic was moving, and it wasn't long before Duo was in the far left lane, driving with traffic nearly thirty miles per hour over the speed limit.

Trowa watched Duo from the periphery of his vision as his eyes blurred over the road and the city whizzing by in ribbons and dizzying panoramas. It was gritty and dirty, but still, Trowa loved the view. Traveling always gave him a sense of place, as if the mile markers and landmarks could position him more definitively.

Duo seemed comfortable behind the wheel. It wasn't a surprise to Trowa that he could handle the stick like a racecar driver, shifting so seamlessly that it felt to Trowa like the car was an automatic. Duo wasn't even paying that much attention; he drove as if the car were an extension of his arms, his eyes darting around and his finger tapping on the wheel in time with the music from the radio. His body was relaxed, almost lounging.

Trowa envied Duo's ease, without bitterness, which was a new enough sensation for Trowa to enjoy wallowing in it for a while. He was skilled, an excellent pilot and driver, but it was something that he had been taught, something that he worked at; if he were to get in the cockpit of a plane today, it would take some work for him to get comfortable again. Duo was more instinctive in his skills.

It was a little infuriating, but Trowa found that he could admire it as well.

When the buildings started to thin out, and they moved into the less crowded areas of the sprawling suburbs, Trowa decided to initiate a discussion, for curiosity's sake.

"Where'd you get the car?" Trowa detected a hint of derision in his voice, but he wasn't at all sure what the source of it might be, so he ignored it.

"Oh. It's Heero's." Duo smiled, shrugging so nonchalantly, it might have been passed off as nothing.

"Heero's?" Trowa dubiously considered the door, contemplating the possibility of simply leaving.

Duo laughed, low in his chest. "Yeah, don't worry. He doesn't use it."

Trowa frowned, the look of displeasure appearing to flirt with his lips as they curved downwards. "I didn't realize you were borrowing the car from him."

"Ah, borrow... yeah. Well, like I said, he won't be missing it, since he doesn't use it. Ever." Duo bounced in his seat a little, turning his face so he could see Trowa better. "It was a gift from Relena, actually, for their engagement. It was a big deal. But Heero prefers to use a motorcycle, or a sports car. Or any other form of transportation not gifted to him by his bride-to-never-be." Duo chuckled merrily at his own joke.

Trowa became pensive. "You didn't... did you steal this?" He looked at the steering wheel. He blinked. "Duo... how did you start the car with no key?"

Duo laughed loudly, his eyes crinkled and his cheeks brightened. "Oh, please! That's not hard! What's hard is navigating out of the private garage Relena has the car stored in. Man, I hate those corkscrew ramps in those parking garages! And damn! How many limos can one person have anyway? At least she doesn't still make 'em paint them pink." Duo shuddered, his shoulders shaking and his head quivering.

Trowa examined the dash evenly. He wasn't sure how to react to this news, and he hoped to find an answer in the smooth leather and fake wood of the dash. Duo had stolen Heero's car, and he had to get it out of one of Relena's private garages to do so.

Actually, it was kind of funny, but he felt too attached to his indignation to appreciate the humor at this juncture.

Perhaps later, when he was alone.

Duo made his way to the exit, and Trowa directed him to the Fairgrounds. It wasn't hard to find a place to park, since the circus was still setting up, but he number of trucks and workers made it difficult to navigate their way around.

The sun was shining brightly, and the wind was just crisp enough to make it a perfect fall day. Trowa kept his hands in his pocket. He felt just a little nervous. He hadn't seen Kat and Vic since before he had been in the hospital. He didn't know what they knew, but given the way gossip seeped through circus folk, Trowa was pretty sure they had heard something, and that whatever they had heard would only bear the most passing relationship to the truth.

It made his steps heavier, to face this.

Duo, on the other hand, was loafing happily through the fairgrounds, his braid swinging behind him as he walked. He wasn't trying to make conversation, but he was keeping pace with Trowa, entertaining himself by gawking at the work being done to get the circus and fairway ready.

Trowa felt a soothing sensation as he watched Duo. He was glad he had asked the other man to join him; Duo would make the reunion pass smoothly, Trowa could just feel it. Duo had that way about him. People liked him. It was some combination of his looks, his charm, and his wit. He could make any social situation pass more smoothly.

Duo was wearing a faded denim shirt over a black t-shirt, and black jeans. The t-shirt was loose, with a wide neck, and the denim shirt flared open as Duo moved. Trowa watched Duo's neck from the corner of his eye. It was actually fairly rare for Duo to expose his neck, as he usually had a penchant for turtlenecks or jackets that buttoned or zipped up right to his neck. But from therapy, Trowa had become familiar with Duo's neck, and that line right behind the ear where Duo was particularly sensitive, which was now being exposed as his braid was veering to the other side, giving Trowa a good view of the landscape.

Trowa stubbed his toe on a rock, and bit the inside of lip, cursing himself silently as he forced his gaze to the grass in front of him.

Kat and Vic were in the ringmaster's trailer, going over the books in preparation for the opening. It felt a bit odd walking into the ringmaster's trailer, and not finding the ringmaster Trowa knew. Kat had grown her hair out since Trowa had last seen her, and it made him feel uncomfortable, as if it were a sign that too much time had passed. Vic was wearing a t-shirt with the circus' slogan emblazoned across the front, and it made him look a little silly, an older man in a younger man's clothes.

"Trowa!" Kat jumped off the desk and threw her arms around Trowa's neck, swinging him around a little as she hugged him. "God, you look great! It's been so long!"

"Trowa." Vic had always been more reserved than the average circus performer, and Trowa respected that immensely. He nodded at Vic tightly, forcing a smile onto his face as he did. "It's good to see you."

"And who is this?" Kat kept an arm around Trowa's neck as she turned to Duo. "Do you have a boyfriend, Tro?"

Duo laughed, his shoulders relaxed as he waved with one friendly gesture, his fore and middle fingers extended. "Hey. Name's Duo, and Tro and I go way back."

"A friend of Trowa's is a friend of ours," Vic declared solemnly, though still managing to be warm. "Well, have you had a chance to look around? What do you think of our circus?"

"Vic and I are so excited to have a former performer here," Kat interrupted anything Trowa might have said quickly. "No one else really has been able to get away from their own stuff to see us. We've been working really hard, recruiting some great people, we've had to train a lot of people, but they've been coming along great and everyone here is really pulling their weight..."

"Kat." Trowa stopped her with a low, insistent tone. "Everything looks great."

"You guys will wanna catch up." Duo scratched the back of his head broadly. "I can go..."

Trowa's eyes became wild, begging Duo not to move an inch, but fortunately, he didn't have to say anything, because Vic came around his desk and threw his arm around Duo's shoulder.

"Nonsense, m'boy! Come, sit, talk! Trowa is too quiet to satisfy Kat's curiosity; you will need to help up translate his many blank stares."

Duo laughed, blushing slightly from Vic's immediately intimate nature. There was a hesitancy in his body language that took Trowa a long time to interpret. It was halfway through Duo's story about the time he got sea sick on a tourist boat because of the five-year-old jumping on his bench that Trowa figured out what was making Duo so twitchy; Vic and Kat were assuming that Duo was his lover.

Trowa wasn't sure exactly why that made Duo nervous, and he didn't understand how it made him feel that Duo was nervous about that, but he did have a sense of relief that he had figured it out.

Kat and Vic took to Duo like kittens to other kittens. After they had traded a few stories and dissected the latest storyline in whatever television show they were talking about, Trowa began to feel like he was the outsider in the group, a feeling that was so commonplace to him, it almost made him feel more comfortable. He watched Duo talk to Kat and Vic, his hands moving through the air uselessly and head bouncing as he spoke, making his braid twitch, and he imagined that Duo was his lover, and that he was introducing him to distant cousins. It would be much like this - Trowa sitting back as Duo worked to impress his lover's relatives, no matter how distantly they were related. It wasn't even difficult to cast Duo in the role of his lover, as the taste of Duo's flesh filled his mouth until he felt like he was going to have to swallow.

Trowa leaned back in his folding chair, smiling gently.

Kat was watching Trowa as much as she was watching Duo. Trowa could feel her eyes on him, but he ignored them. The similarity to Catherine's eyes on him was passing enough for him to have the sense of familiarity divorced from any sense of responsibility; he pretended not to notice as she surreptitiously eyed his arms.

Twice during their conversation, they were interrupted by circus business, and when the third panicked knock to the door halted the flow of chatter, Vic reluctantly admitted that they had a lot of work to do; the circus was opening on Wednesday and they both had long to do lists still depressingly full. Duo stood up rapidly upon this declaration, his nervousness covered only partially by his smile.

"We certainly don't want to keep you from your work, right?" Duo looked at Trowa hopefully, taking a half a step toward the door as he spoke.

Trowa shrugged, noncommittally. "Good luck with your run. We'll come up later, if we can." Trowa didn't look at Duo as he said 'we,' speaking so casually he trusted it would be easily interpreted any way that Duo wanted.

Kat grinned from ear to ear. "You should feel free to roam around, entertain yourselves. A lot of our people are off today, the performers that is, while they set up the midway. In fact," she winked at Trowa, "if you wanted to get a bit of a workout, the main tent is all set up and tested out. The practice net is up, even, so you could see how you like our arrangements, and maybe try to work on getting some muscle back on those bones of yours."

Trowa didn't smile, but his eyes cleared. "All right."

Duo looked from one person to the other, not really sure what was going on, but not really looking to extend his time in the trailer either. He shook Vic's hand, and let Kat hug him, and blushed as she teased him about letting himself get saddled with a guy like Trowa.

Vic put his hand on Trowa's shoulder, squeezing tightly enough to make Trowa want to wince. "We're glad to see you, Trowa, and be able to spend this time with you. Remember that, won't you?"

Trowa ducked his head in what could have been an affirmative, his eyes closed as he pulled away from Vic's grip. Kat grabbed him into a hug, holding on for much longer than Trowa was happy with, her body trembling a little. Trowa was getting concerned when suddenly Kat was speaking to him, too quietly for anyone else to hear.

"For the love of all that is good and holy, Trowa, don't ever scare us like that again, please?"

The embarrassment threatened to choke Trowa to death. He extricated himself from her embrace gently but quickly, keeping his eyes down as he exited the trailer, heading determinedly into the direction his head was pointing as he walked out the door.

He could hear Duo calling out goodbyes, but he wasn't waiting for the other man. He watched the grass under his feet as he moved away from them, Kat's words haunting him. The smell of blood taunted him, and he felt a little lightheaded. The sunlight seemed unnaturally bright, reminding him of his blood soaking into his hair as he stared in to the bare bulb over the mirror over the sink.

"Hey! Hey, Trowa!" Duo ran to catch up to Trowa, scowling. "Trowa, damn it, where the hell are you going?"

Trowa stopped so abruptly that Duo passed him before he was able to stop. He kept his eyes down. The grass was thick and a deep, healthy green, but it had been trampled enough already that it was limp. Trowa imagined what it would be like after all the people visiting the circus were done stomping over it. He preferred it when the circus visited the colonies; the grass in the colonies was engineered to be more resilient than the naturally occurring grass on Earth.

"Mind if I have a smoke while you brood?" Duo sounded irritated, which Trowa would have felt guilty about if he could have.

Duo pulled out the cigarettes from his back pocket, tapping the packet impatiently against his thigh for a minute. He expertly pulled out a cigarette with his teeth, shoving the pack away quickly as he fished for his lighter. In the wide-open space of the great outdoors, the smell of cloves was so diluted that Trowa could only detect the trace of it. Duo sucked on the end of the cigarette like he was taking the first breath in open air after coming in from a space walk. He blew the air out slowly through his teeth, and the trails of smoke lingered and wound around each other as they wafted away.

It was calming even to watch it.

"Sorry." Trowa didn't sound the least bit apologetic, which was only natural, given he didn't feel the least bit apologetic, but he thought it was the proper place to start.

"Right." Duo rolled his eyes, taking another long drag. "Never mind. I know how you feel."

Trowa watched Duo as the other man pointedly didn't look at him for a moment, analyzing the veracity of his statement coldly. All the tension had bled out of Duo's body, and he seemed so disconnected to anything around him that Trowa had a hard time not believing him.

"Anyway, no harm done." Duo took another drag, a short one, and met Trowa's eyes. "Your friends are nice."

Trowa nodded slowly, feeling his agreement seep through his skin.

Duo grinned. "Vic is kinda hot, in an old guy sorta way."

Trowa's expression lightened humorously, shaking his head. "He used to be a woman."

Duo actually did a double take. "No! Not seriously!" Trowa nodded emphatically, grinning cryptically from under his bangs. "Damn! Those surgeries get better and better all the time!"

Trowa barked a quick laugh, finding Duo's shock soothing. "Yeah. Well." He indicated with his chin the direction of the main tent. "Shall we?"

Duo made an exaggerated gesture of gentlemanly deferment, allowing Trowa to precede him. They walked to the main tent unhurriedly, and for the first time that day, the sunshine didn't aggravate Trowa.

Entering the main tent of the circus was the closest thing Trowa had to understand a religious experience. The sunlight, filtered through the thick canvass of the tent, was ethereal, and the dust in the air and the sawdust on the ground was like incense. Trowa's eyes were immediately drawn to the center of the tent, and the two large poles holding up the tent, in between which was the rig for the trapeze. The landing for the trapeze was over sixty feet in the air, and the wires and the swings were like gossamer threads in the air, like the beginning of a spider web.

Duo whistled low, shoving his hands into his pocket as he walked around in ever-larger circles. "Wow. This is so much bigger from here than it is from the stands, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Trowa would have been surprised at his tone of voice, except he wasn't paying attention.

"How did you ever learn to do this stuff?" Duo watched Trowa, smirking despite himself.

Trowa shrugged. "Didn't. Just... did it." Trowa walked slowly to the ladder leading up to the trapeze. The soft crush of loose dirt and sawdust under his feet was so achingly familiar, he felt like he had been transported back in time. He regarded the ladder benevolently.

Duo came to stand next to him, not encroaching upon Trowa's space, but quietly questioning Trowa discreetly.

Trowa turned to face Duo, a small smirk hiding on his lips. "Want to fly?"

Duo watched Trowa start climbing up that ladder, just watching for a moment as Trowa gracefully went from one rung to the next. Trowa was aware of the moment when Duo started to heft his way up as well, but he kept his eyes up. He could feel it crawling up his spine, the thrill of being in the air, of being free, and he clamped down on the feeling, trying to hold it, trying to stop it.

The sound of Duo behind him only added to the tickle of thrill. He was glad that they had both dressed casually; it wasn't the same as being in tights, but given that they both had training and experience in extreme situation, Trowa didn't think it would be a problem.

He stood on the platform solidly, and the feeling that he was trying to hold onto slipped away, and filled him. He could feel the blood slushing through his veins, his heart pumping in his chest, his diaphragm heaving...

He felt more alive in this moment than he could remember feeling in a long time, and the terror that trickled under his fingers only heightened the sensation. It was a long fall from here, and he didn't want to fly alone.

The only time Quatre had come to visit him in the circus, between the wars, Trowa had tried to convince him to join him in the air. Quatre had actually laughed at the idea, before expressing disgust when he realized that Trowa was serious.

Trowa picked up the bag of chalk, and rolled it around in his hand. The routine of it soothed his jangled nerves as he mentally charted out what he was going to do up here.

"You know, Tro, when you asked me if I wanted to fly, I had something else entirely in mind. It's not nice to tease, you know." Duo winked as he got his bearing on the platform, finding it awkward to share the space.

Trowa squeezed the bag in his hand, rolling it so it was like a ball. "I know that, but I didn't realize you did."

"Ha. Wow, how far up are we, anyway?" Duo stared down at the ground, mesmerized by the vertigo.

"Fifty feet," Trowa replied calmly, "but the net is twenty-five feet down."

"Then I can't get hurt, huh?" Duo peered down, looking for the net.

Trowa shrugged. "You could easily dislocate a limb." He and Duo stared at each other for a moment. "Just stay loose, and if you fall, relax. Also... don't push it. If it's close, just let yourself fall. The net is safer than trying to hang on when the momentum is carrying you away."

Duo swallowed hard as Trowa slipped the bar off its hook. Trowa toed off his shoes, and pulled his socks off by pressing his heel onto some of the slack at his toes. Duo quickly followed suit, slipping off his denim shirt at the same time.

"It's simple, really. You'll probably wonder why you were so nervous when we're done. You swing out on this bar," Trowa held up the bar in his hand, "to the bar in the middle, called the fly bar. Now, usually there's a catcher to swing you around, but it's just the two of us, playing around. I'll go out first, get the bars swinging. You catch this bar when it comes back, and when I give the signal, you come out. And we'll just swing around until one of us... well, you... falls. Ok?"

Duo nodded slowly, obviously controlling his breathing as he stared off the edge of the platform. "Ok. You swing out, I catch the bar when it comes back, you give me the signal, and we have fun. Got it." Duo turned to face Trowa smirking. "So, you're gonna be my catcher, huh Tro?"

Trowa's lips twitched. "Don't count on it."

Abruptly, Trowa leaped off the platform, gracefully swinging out to the fly bar. Duo patiently waited on the platform, admiring Trowa's form as he moved through the air. When the bar came back, he caught it with both hands, clutching it nervously. He inched out to the edge of the platform, the bar held firmly in the palms of his hands, as he waited.

Trowa could see him at all times, a skill that was essential for any acrobatic act. Duo looked small, standing with his toes carefully lined up at the edge of the platform. Trowa wasn't thinking about Duo too much, though. The air was whooshing around him, heightening the sensation of speed as he moved.

It was all about speed. Momentum, speed, and timing. It was the purest thing that Trowa had ever experienced. The jangle of the wires as they started their pendulum dance, the feel of the air over his body, the way everything blurred around him until the only thing that was solid was the bar he was reaching for, it all coalesced in Trowa's perceptions to create the whole that was this moment, this pure, adrenaline-fueled moment of freedom.

When the swinging was just right, he gave the signal. He could feel it as much as he could see it; Duo swung out with a lot of power, and was coming in fast. He let go instinctively at the perfect moment, at the top of his swing, and was heading for the fly bar. Trowa caught the bar, and then quickly repositioned so he was hanging from his knees. Reaching out, he found Duo was in just the right place, just the right time, at just the right speed.

The slap of flesh against flesh was deafening. Trowa smiled, his eyes blazing as he met Duo's wild eyes. They swung back, and when Trowa felt them reach the highest point of the swing, he released Duo gently, letting him fly away.

They swung back and forth once more, and Duo actually winked at him when Trowa caught him.

Trowa was in the middle of a flip when he heard it. It was a small noise, but unmistakable. The burning slip of flesh over the bar, and the scream of air over a falling body.

He repositioned himself on the bar as soon as he could, quickly checking Duo's position. He could hear it before he saw it; Duo was falling fast, his braid just a streak behind him as he fell to the tent at top speed.

"Duo!" Trowa jumped off the bar he was on, diving leisurely to the net.

Duo was making a noise, and at the speed Trowa was at, he couldn't distinguish what kind of noise it was exactly. His brain was working even faster than his body; he imagined Duo hitting the net at high speed, dislocating his shoulder, maybe even dislocating a vertebrae.

As soon as Trowa hit the net, he tried to move in it, getting to Duo as quickly as possible. It was hard to move in the net; the only way to do it, really, was to crawl. The net was bouncing too, swinging up and down like the tide. It felt like it was taking forever to get there, and the sound of Duo's cries invigorated his muscles to push faster and harder.

When he got to Duo, though, his whole body relaxed as he realized that Duo was actually laughing.

Duo's eyes were closed as he laughed, his arms around his waist, he was laughing so hard. His hair was all in frazzles around his face, his braid messily hanging down a hole in the net. Trowa continued to crawl to Duo's side, the fear draining out of him, leaving him feeling blessedly empty. Trowa got to Duo's side, and he placed one hand on the net next to Duo's shoulder, and his other hand on the net on the other side of Duo's chest, looking down on Duo, carefully assessing, making sure that Duo was, in fact, fine.

Duo was too damn fucking gorgeous for his own good.

His face was bright, his cheeks glowing as he laughed harder and harder. Trowa wanted to put his body down over Duo's, to feel Duo's humor and heat, to press his face against Duo's neck, to feel Duo against him everywhere.

Trowa gently brushed the stray hair out of Duo's face, letting his fingertips run over the edge of Duo's face lightly and slowly.

Duo's eyes opened slowly, and he looked up at Trowa with absolute delight. "That was so much fun! We have to do that again!"

Trowa didn't move for a moment, just hovering over Duo, smiling gently down at the other man. He was painfully cognizant of how close they were to each other. The memory of Duo's kiss lingered on his lips teasingly. Pulling himself away, Trowa reached out a hand. "Let's go."

Duo seemed much more sober now, and they bungled their way to the safety wire at the edge of the net slowly, holding hands.

For the next three hours, they swung like monkeys from one bar to the other, falling every so often. Duo would laugh and jump in the net each time, until Trowa was actually chuckling a little too. By the end of their session, Trowa had even taught Duo how to catch, successfully grabbing Trowa twice before they fell again.

The fifteenth time they fell, Vic and Kat were waiting for them at the edge of the center ring.

"Damn, I'm gonna have to call Catherine and tell her she's been replaced!" Kat winked at Trowa, throwing her arm around Duo's shoulders. "Please tell me you've done this before. Please tell me there aren't more like that one out there!"

Duo chuckled, ducking his head down to hide his blush from Kat. "Oh, I was born in a tree, dontcha know? And Cathy can't get too upset with me... at least I don't throw knives at him." He winked at Kat, wiggling his eyebrows foolishly.

Vic shook his head. "Tro, I'm sorry, but the Totania's need to practice, so..."

Trowa shrugged, picking up their shoes and socks, which they had fortunately remembered to bring down during one of their many trips back and forth. "No problem, Vic. Thanks for letting us fly; I know it's an insurance issue."

Vic waved his hands in the air dismissively. "Bah! I know you better than that! I'm just glad you had a good time."

Kat shook Duo as they walked together. "Now, we're trusting you to keep an eye on that boy, Mr. Maxwell. He's a trouble maker and a nuisance and a conversational dead weight, but he's the only one we've got so we'd like to keep him."

"No prob, Kat. I personally think he's got a couple of handy household uses, anyway." Duo winked as he spoke, but he was obviously a little embarrassed to be continuing the misperception of the nature of their relationship.

Trowa smirked, a little unreasonably happy that Duo was willing to deceive Kat and Vic.

They were back on the expressway very shortly afterwards, and Trowa was a little surprised at how late it was. He hadn't much noticed the sun going down while he and Duo were flying. There was a suspension of something in the air between them that he couldn't place, and he wished the road would just stretch out and go on forever, so they could stay in this comfortable silence and be together in the car forever.

He nearly sighed when Duo exited the expressway.

There was a need for speech as they got closer and closer to Trowa's building, and it irritated Trowa immensely. He picked through over a dozen possibly phrases before getting bored of it, deciding to just say something instead.

"Thanks for coming with."

Duo turned to him with a smile that would have blinded him if he were looking directly at Duo's eyes. "Naw, thank you! Today was awesome, man. I've never done anything like that before... It was so cool!"

Trowa nodded, smiling loosely. "Next best thing to being in a Gundam."

"You can say that again," Duo whistled low, the depth of his agreement evident. "That moment when you first jump off, and the ropes are still slack, and then there's the pull, and you're moving like lightening... Damn, that's just fuckin' awesome."

Trowa nodded in agreement, settling in comfortably against the smooth leather of the seat. "Do you... would you like help returning the car?"

"Nah," Duo shook his head, sounding a bit regretful. "It's kinda... a one-man job, ya know? But thanks. And really..." He turned the corner to pull up in front of Trowa's building. "Thanks. Today was great."

The car slowed to a stop, and Trowa reluctantly unbuckled, getting ready to get out. When he turned to say goodbye to Duo, the other man was clearly thinking of saying something. "Well..." Trowa waited, hoping Duo was going to spit it out, because he wasn't sure how to ask him what was on his mind.

Duo's brow was furrowed. His mouth opened to speak slowly. "I'll... see you tomorrow, right, for lunch?"

Trowa nodded, almost happily.

Duo grinned. "Tell me Tro. Why didn't you kiss me?"

Trowa didn't have to ask what Duo meant. He considered the question for the first time. "I suppose I didn't want to spoil a great moment."

Duo smiled, his eyes turning inward. "Ah. Well." He leaned across the seat, and kissed Trowa on the cheek. "That would have been a shame." He winked at Trowa.

"'Night." Trowa opened the door and got out, waiting at the curb until Duo successfully pulled away.

All night long, as he watched the alley, he remembered the afternoon, pouring over every last detail in minutia, mentally reliving it until it was sealed permanently in memory.





It had been a long morning. Monday mornings always dragged on like they were being physically pulled out of the hole of the weekend, but this morning, Trowa would have preferred a refreshing bout of bloody torture to break up the tedium.

Also, his game of minesweeper was defying his dominance, and that was only making it all worse.

So, when Duo called him at 11:15 to ask him if he wanted to go to lunch, he was out of his chair before he had even hung up the phone.

They met at the corner closest to Trowa. Duo was there first, just lighting his cigarette, needing to huddle against the wind to get it lit. He sucked hard on the end of the cigarette, looking like he needed it to survive.

Trowa smiled a little before he got to Duo; it was good to know that it wasn't just his morning that was dragging.

Duo's cheeks were pinked a little, from the wind and chill most likely, but the tiny splotches of color in the center of his cheeks highlighted the structure of his face, and Trowa was immediately struck that someone who grew up on some of the meanest streets there are in the whole of the Earthsphere was so fine. He was distracted enough by his wonder that he appeared totally unaffected when he got to Duo's elbow.

Duo grinned at him, holding his cigarette over his mouth as he did. "Heya Tro. How's it going?"

Trowa made a gesture that didn't mean anything at all. "Where do you want to go?"

Duo took a slow, satisfying drag, and half shrugged. "Dunno. The Abbey?"

Trowa nodded. The Abbey was a small Irish pub near the headquarters that almost no one ever went to for lunch, even though the food was distinctly non-Irish, because it was considered more of a night place. They walked together amiably, pacing together without difficulty. The sun was still out, but in the downtown area, it wasn't as oppressive, reflected off the steel and concrete. Trowa found that the sunshine in the city was actually enjoyable. That, in addition to the bite of the wind and the sensation of closeness to Duo, made it seem like the morning was over and the day was just beginning.

It wasn't a feeling Trowa was at all used to, so he stuffed his hands in his pockets and tried to ignore it.

They seated themselves in a dark corner of the bar, and Duo handed Trowa one of the small menus in a dirty plastic sheath from the holder at the end of the table. Trowa stared at it for long moments before he recognized the markings on the paper as words.

"Mind if I have a drink?" Duo's question seemed completely fatuous, since Trowa had assumed that Duo picked a bar for lunch so that he could drink. Since Duo didn't appear to even remember that he had asked a question, Trowa didn't feel any need to answer.

The waitress came to see them, looking like she was still waking up. Duo smiled up at her, and she got all rosy. Trowa wondered if he could smile at someone like that, but decided quickly that it would probably take a lot of effort.

Duo ordered a Guinness, and Trowa ordered a lemonade. The girl wandered off, sticking her pencil in apron distractedly, so it took her several tries to get it to stay.

Duo groaned and stretched out over the table, his long arms pushing across the table so that the network of fingers he had intertwined nearly touched Trowa. "Man, my back is killing me today! I guess I should have stretched out after our workout yesterday!"

Trowa felt an alien stab of guilt, which left an unpleasant look on his face. "Sorry..."

"Don't be," Duo smirked up at Trowa, his arms still stretched out over the table. "I had more fun yesterday than I had with my best orgasm. I always wanted to run away and join the circus, but it never came to L2 when I was a kid."

Trowa fidgeted in his chair, his blood unsettled. "Me too."

Duo sat up again, slouching in his seat. "So, yesterday was good for you, too." His voice was sexy and suggestive.

Trowa blinked, and his eyes went down to his fingertips curling around the edge of the tabletop. "Yes, but I was talking about wanting to run away to the circus."

"Ach, at least you did get a chance to eventually. What a rush, man. That so is flying." Duo scratched the back of his head, making his braid twitch.

Trowa's lips twitched in what might have turned into a grin. "I know."

The waitress came to the table, carrying the drinks precariously. Duo's eyes were suddenly riveted to the flow of creamy stout jiggling over the rim of his glass. His face blanked out, and for a moment, Trowa thought Duo might stab the waitress with his blunt knife.

Instead, as soon as she got close to the table, Duo reached out and took the glass from her in a parody of gentility. He put it down carefully, his eyes riveted to the rim and the creamy top of his stout.

"So, honeys, what'll ya have?" She grinned at Duo as if she had not just threatened the sanctity of his Guinness.

Trowa spoke up first, ordering a soup and small salad. He didn't look at the waitress, and he spoke exactly loudly enough, by his estimation, to be heard. When she asked him to repeat what he said, he pursed his lips and furrowed his brow, offended by her lack of respect for his estimation of her hearing.

Duo ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, and substituted French fries for the potato chips. She sloughed off again, walking without picking up her feet.

Duo sighed, dragging his finger through the stiff creamy foam of the stout. He made a little smiley face, licking his finger when he was done. Trowa found the action of Duo's finger pulling out of his mouth slowly to be insanely pleasing.

Their conversation, or lack thereof, had eased through their continued interactions into a pattern that each man was comfortable with; Duo did not feel an overwhelming need to stay upbeat, as he knew that Trowa found that annoying, and Trowa did not feel an overwhelming need to feel guilty about not contributing to the small talk. Trowa did ask Duo what he was working on, which enabled Duo to fill the space in time between sips of his stout, which was disappearing rather quickly considering it wasn't noon yet.

The atmosphere of the bar and the established nature of the discourse conspired to make Trowa relax. He even leaned back in his chair, and crossed his legs. It was odd; usually, working days lingered through the hours like a guest you wish would leave but can't quite extricate. This quiet lunch was unsettlingly lackadaisical.

Their food came, and Trowa stirred his soup dispassionately, watching the whorls in the thick liquid. He even raised the spoon to his lips gingerly, actually enjoying the heat of it next to his lips.

He nearly dropped his spoon when the disturbing ringing began, and he glared at Duo, disgruntled as if he were being woken by an alarm.

Duo had to check a few pockets before he was able to find his cell phone. He opened it, and checked the incoming number before answering. Trowa noticed that he seemed to connect the call rather reluctantly, and that Duo's face seemed to be snarling.

"What? ...No, I can't... Well, I'm at lunch. ...Yeah, normal people eat, you know... No, that won't... I'm at the Abbey, but... This isn't... But why do you... Fine, do whatever the hell you want, you're going to anyway." It's not possible to slam a cell phone to disconnect, but from the force with which Duo pressed the button, it was clear that he was trying to do just that. He regarded his meal with the same forlorn expression a child gives a recalcitrant vegetable that stubbornly refuses to eat itself.

Trowa sipped his soup, and waited patiently for Duo to tell him the Heero was coming.

"So, three guesses who that was, and your first two don't count." Duo picked up his Guinness, and drank it straight to the bottom, signaling the waitress before he was even done drinking.

Trowa put his soupspoon down in the soup. "Should I go?"

"Hell no!" Duo looked at Trowa like a kitten had just leapt from his mouth. "Heero wants to get away from Relena and Une for an hour, so he's coming to see me. Lucky me. But you don't get off the hook that easily, mister. Heero's no obstacle for anything we're doing."

Trowa pondered what Duo just said and how he said it long enough for the waitress to come and bring Duo another Guinness. Duo did the same thing again, tracing a pattern in the creamy foam and licking his finger clean before sipping it.

It was a nice habit.

Duo had picked his sandwich apart almost entirely when Heero stormed into the bar. He was wearing a navy blazer, with a green polo shirt under it. Trowa thought that he looked like a kid in a play pretending to be an adult, but he kept that observation to himself, stabbing a tomato wedge and biting off the end of it as Heero reached the table.

"You're drinking?" Heero pulled up a chair as he sneered at Duo. "Lush."

"Nice to see you, too, Heero. You look nice; Relena dressing you again?" Duo smiled cheerfully at Heero, and it underscored to Trowa how much happier Duo looked when he was not smiling at him.

Heero sighed, aggravated. "Where were you yesterday?"

"Why?" Duo went into a defensive posture immediately, shoving his shoulder in Heero's direction.

"I went by your place, but you weren't home. I thought Sunday was your detox day." Heero grabbed a fry from Duo's plate, acting as if he were saving it from the horror of being eaten by Duo.

Duo grinned. "Tro and I went flying."

Heero glared at Duo sharply. "You're not serious." There wasn't even a hint of a question in his voice.

"Completely," Duo replied blithely.

Heero narrowed his eyes, looking from Duo's grin to Trowa's disinterest. "You aren't enough of a fuck up to jeopardize any chance you might have of getting your license back, are you?"

"Aw, Heero, I didn't know you cared." Duo pulled a fry out of Heero's thieving fingers, slipping it between his lips in a slow tease.

Heero's eyes were fixated on Duo's lips and his fingers as Duo cleaned them off thoroughly. There was a nakedness to Heero's attention to Duo that made Trowa feel like a voyeur. Shifting in his chair, Trowa focused on his salad, pretending that he was at another table entirely.

"Tell me you weren't screwing up again." Heero's voice was even and annoyingly patronizing, though there was something in his posture that suggested a hint of real concern as well.

Duo rolled his eyes, massaging his neck, irritated. "Tro and I went to visit some circus friends of his, and we went on the trapeze."

Heero's eyes stayed on Duo for several heartbeats until they shifted deliberately to Trowa. "Spent the day with the freaks and geeks, hm?"

"No, those acts aren't allowed anymore." Trowa calmly lifted a cucumber slice to his mouth. "It's inhumane to the animals."

Duo laughed softly, his eyes sparkling, watching Trowa. Trowa found himself smiling just a little in response.

Heero critically observed one then the other. "If you two are in therapy every week, how come you're both still so crazy? Isn't the doctor any good?"

"God, I hope we never find out." Duo shivered, and Trowa had an image of Dr. Clarkson touching Duo's skin, which made his stomach lurch.

"What?" Heero looked at Duo, confusion clouding his eyes.

"Nothing," Duo shook his head, "private joke."

Heero picked up a piece of Duo's sandwich glumly. "Whatever."

The waitress came by a moment later to ask Heero if he wanted anything. He glared at her as he scoffed at her offer of food or beverage, picking up Duo's Guinness as she walked away, to Duo's consternation.

Lunch at that point was an effort to Trowa, and with Duo and Heero eating off the same plate and drinking out of the same glass, the meal did not stretch out. Heero put money on the table for Duo, walking away after he did to evade any possible offer of thanks from Duo.

They walked back to Preventers' HQ leadenly, and Trowa kept his eyes on the way the sunlight reflected on the sidewalk. Duo pulled out another cigarette, ignoring Heero's judgmental sneer, and he managed to get through two whole cigarettes by the time they reached the corner closest to Trowa's door.

Duo smiled at Trowa as he prepared to say goodbye, a small hint of regret in the way he shrugged his shoulders as he did. Trowa turned up one corner of his mouth in response.

Heero grabbed Duo's braid and gave it a sharp tug. Trowa frowned at the mistreatment of Duo's hair, his eyes narrowing at Heero.

"Come with me to the store. I need to get some supplies for Relena." Heero managed to ask a question and make it sound more like a dare.

Duo pulled his hair out of Heero's grasp. "I have to get back to work, Heero."

"You can stay late, right."

Trowa glared at Heero's petulance.

Duo rolled his eyes. "Like I don't have enough trouble with my boss!"

"What does he care? You do your work. Anyway, you need to shake off the beer smell, and I need your help. Let's go." Heero turned and started walking, completely sure that Duo would follow him.

Duo sighed, turning to Trowa. "I'll talk to you later, right?"

Trowa nodded, his expression softening. Duo smiled brightly in response, leaning up quickly to kiss Trowa's cheek. The impression of his lips on Trowa's flesh felt electrified.

Duo caught up to Heero, who had stopped in his tracks. Heero kept watching Trowa with the same accusing glance even after Duo passed him.

That afternoon, Trowa reorganized the files on his hard drive, finding new and inventive ways to be sure that not even he would be able to untangle the web of files later. The image of Heero and Duo sharing a lunch so seamlessly warred with the image of Heero pulling on Duo's braid and biting him, until all of Trowa's thoughts were so jumbled, they refused to come out anymore.

After that, minesweeper was easy.





It was Thursday again, and again they were sitting on Dr. Clarkson's couch, and again Trowa had his arm around Duo. It would almost be routine by now, but Trowa found the experience of holding Duo to be so refined that it was never the same.

Duo was wearing greenish-brown cargo pants that were too big for him and a t-shirt that was too small, and had been slashed open across the front, revealing Duo's chest tantalizingly. He sat so that his back was up against Trowa's body, and his legs were tucked under him. Trowa had his arm across Duo's chest so that he could touch the skin available from the hole.

Dr. Clarkson was asking Duo about Heero, again, and Duo was purposefully misunderstanding his questions. Trowa wasn't paying close attention. Dr. Clarkson wanted to know if Duo knew what he wanted from his relationship with Heero. Trowa frowned, and put his chin on Duo's shoulder.

He liked the way that Duo's hair felt against his cheek, and the scent of Duo. Duo was so slim... Trowa almost worried about it. Duo wasn't using anymore, so Trowa thought that he should be gaining weight, but maybe not. Maybe that wasn't how it worked. And certainly Trowa wasn't the person to complain about someone else's eating habits. However, as a result, Duo fit snuggly in his arms. It felt like a fit, like he was made to be there, in Trowa's embrace.

Trowa knew that it was an emotional artifact of a physical pleasure; a person naturally felt like the person in their bed was the person who was meant to be there. It was a self-defense mechanism to maintain one's dignity. People were reluctant to admit they were just being whorish.

But Trowa wasn't even sleeping with Duo yet. There were two things there that bothered Trowa. One, he had a sense that he should be sleeping with Duo, that if Heero wasn't around, they would have already had sex. Heero acted territorial enough whenever he was around; surely that meant that Duo was fair game, open to a scavenger's attention if the predator that had captured him got distracted?

The second thing that bothered him was the assumption that they would have sex at some point. As if it were on the calendar, and they just hadn't gotten to it. Trowa enjoyed touching Duo, he enjoyed the kissing, but he was limited to the confines of this couch, and he was uncertain about when he had admitted to himself that he even wanted something like this with Duo, and that there might be a possibility that it wouldn't happen.

Lots of things that are only scheduled get canceled after all.

Trowa's arm snaked down lower and he put his hand over Duo's belly.

The problem was simple; Heero Yuy was currently in a position that Trowa desired. But, Heero was clearly not performing his role satisfactorily, or else Duo wouldn't dismiss the importance of Heero in his life. So, Heero was not an obstacle. Wasn't that what Duo had said?

Duo had also asked Trowa why they hadn't kissed. Implying that it was something that he had anticipated.

So, there was no problem.

Trowa's hand slipped down to Duo's hip.

Dr. Clarkson was rambling about something; Trowa only knew this because Duo was arching his back, pushing against Trowa's frame with more force. The therapist was getting distracted. But he was still talking.

Trowa filtered his voice out, and thought more about his problem.

There was a problem, because he knew that he and Duo were not going to be having sex tonight. Or anytime in the foreseeable future. He wanted to have sex with Duo. Duo did not appear to be offering any objection to the plan. There should be no problem.

Duo rearranged himself so he had one foot on the couch, and his leg was up, his knee knocking on the back of the couch. As a result, Duo's legs were spread wide apart, and his groin was completely open.

It seemed utterly natural for Trowa's hand to slip into the join between Duo's legs, and cover his groin with his palm. His heart started to pound in his chest, and Trowa could hear his pulse in his ears. Duo was breathing harder next to him, and with each heaving inhalation, his back was pushing against Trowa's chest.

The problem was that Trowa had never initiated a sexual encounter before; in fact, his experience was extremely limited. He had a few fumbling encounters with Quatre, none of which lead anywhere, and a couple of random events, usually with people who had come to the circus. He knew how to accept an invitation, but he did not know how to offer one.

His hand began to move over Duo's crotch, kneading the flesh slightly. Duo responded with a moan that sent electricity up and down Trowa's spine, enervating every nerve in his body. Duo's body was twisting next to his, and Duo's mouth was suddenly attacking his.

His hand did not move from its chosen position, but he had to rearrange himself to make room for Duo.

Duo's hands were on his neck, Duo's fingertips pressing into Trowa's skin, tracing the line of his jugular and jaw. Duo's tongue tickled his palette, and Trowa felt his appetite surge.

Duo was under him now, his hand still on Duo's crotch, still kneading, and the flesh under his fingers was no longer pliant. Duo was hard, and aching, if the noises he was making were any indication, and Trowa now knew quite certainly that Duo was loud in bed.

The thought drove Trowa just a little mad, and he pushed his whole body against Duo. Their bodies lined up, and Trowa realized belatedly that he was hard, too, and that his tightly compacted erection was rubbing against Duo's thigh. Duo's hands pulled out Trowa's shirttails, and his hands were now covering Trowa's flesh, one slipping back to try to explore the possibility of access to Trowa's ass.

Trowa used his teeth to gently pull on Duo's lips. Duo's eyes were half-lidded, and his braid was dragging onto the floor. Trowa had a very strong mental image of Duo's naked body under his, and he shuddered, putting his face against Duo's neck as he tried to restrain his body's impulses.

Duo ran his hand up and down Trowa's spine, his other hand soothing the muscles in the back of Trowa's neck, and he was whispering nonsense in Trowa's ear, a soothing sound that could have been words if Trowa's brain was functioning well enough to interpret them.

The bell rang.

Trowa put his elbows down on the couch and pushed himself up a bit. Duo wasn't as ready to give up contact, and he placed feathery kisses on Trowa's chin and jaw, until he settled back, as contented as a kitten who had made off with a mouthful of food from the table.

Dr. Clarkson was panting, and the two men on the couch ignored him completely.

Getting up off the couch hurt a little, as a thousand little needs begged Trowa to stay put and feast. Duo sat up slowly, pulling his braid forward with a grin. He toyed with the end of it between his legs, and Trowa couldn't resist giving the tuft at the end a little flick.

They stood up slowly, forcibly relaxing their muscles as they did, trying to beat down the residual of their session through force of will. Dr. Clarkson couldn't meet their eyes as he handed them their forms, his downed eyes only making the bulge in his pants more noticeable. Duo sneered at him with disgust as he ripped his form out of the doctor's hand.

They loafed to the elevator. Neither was able to move quickly, and the lingering pace suited their foggy perceptions. Duo pushed the button, leaning his whole body in so his finger cracked, it was so extended.

Trowa enjoyed the burn of desire in his body; it made him feel alive, like he was actually awake and participating in the day. When he thought of the tease of pleasure tickling his nerves as just an appetizer, he could feel his heart pounding again. It was good to be excited about someone again.

Duo pushed the button for the lobby as well, casually leaning against the wall of the elevator. He watched Trowa from the corner of his eye, his body loose and his lips curling mischievously. "Hey Tro."

Trowa raised an eyebrow at Duo.

"You give good therapy."

The smirk on Duo's face opened up into a dazzling smile as Trowa responded to what Duo said. He moved with Duo as the doors opened. As they were walking out of the lobby, he replied quickly, under his breath, "I'm good at a lot of things."

Duo laughed out loud, his mirth echoing off the marble floors of the lobby.

When they got outside, Duo stopped to get a cigarette as always, but this time he jokingly offered Trowa one as well. The rest of the evening seemed to be protracted cool down, as Duo followed Trowa home, and they ate Chinese take out. Duo left early, joking that the only entertainment in Trowa's apartment was pornographic.

The way he wiggled his eyebrows when he said that made Trowa think that he wasn't referring to movies.

After Duo left, Trowa washed his dishes very carefully, scrubbing each surface several times, and rinsing each dish long enough to drown the porcelain. He then took a long, hot shower, moving the washcloth over his body in slow motion, marveling at the suds.

He sat at the window watching the alley for only a little while before he got restless, and he climbed into bed. He closed his eyes, and imagined things about Duo that made him feel lethargic, and eventually, he was surprised to wake up and see the morning light shining in the window.






notesPart OnePart Two • Part Three • Part FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart FourteenEpilogue



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