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

Duo's boots were blocking a small corner of the screen. Trowa leaned over so that his chin was tickled by the fluffy hair on top of Duo's head.

Duo had insisted that they go see this movie. Trowa had no particular objection, and Duo had seemed so eager, Trowa almost relished the idea of going out on a Friday night. The theater was showing a classic animated feature. Trowa was not the sort of person to get invested in animated stories, but there was sufficient artistry in this to keep him captivated.

They had gotten to the theater in plenty of time, and purchased two soft drinks, and a small cup of popcorn. Duo had picked the seats, way up in the stadium-seating theater, slouching down in his chair so that he could put his feet up in the space between the seats in front of him. He had wiggled in his chair, getting comfortable, and when he found that elusive perfect position, he had put his face down on Trowa's arm, and promptly fell asleep.

Duo looked blank when he was asleep, all the personality drained from his features. Only his nose retained any character, as it made little bunny-nose movements every few minutes. Trowa watched him unabashedly, until the lights went down, and then he divided his attention between the screen and Duo's face washed weakly in the reflected, flashing light from the screen.

It was a wholly pleasant way to spend the evening; the relaxed intimacy Duo had assumed effecting a soothing warmth through Trowa's circulatory system.

Duo had claimed that they couldn't pass up the chance to see a classic in animation in the theater, and with Duo's head on his shoulder, Trowa was loath to argue with the sentiment. There was a charming quality to the characters that made Trowa wish he believed in magic and spirits.

He waited until the blue screen with the movie's ratings came up, and the lights were turned on again, before he moved his arm, gently telling Duo's hair, "The movie's over."

Duo blinked twice, his body stiffening in alertness, before recognition slide into relaxation again. Stretching his arms above his head as he pulled his feet down, he grinned at Trowa. "See? Wasn't that a great movie?"

"You didn't see it." Trowa's voice was flat and even, but his eyes betrayed his mirth.

Duo winked at him. "Not this time, no, but I have seen it before. It's one of my favorites."

Trowa shook his head, shrugging as he stood up. "I liked it. It had good music."

"Yeah," Duo agreed hazily. He started to loaf off in the direction of the aisle. "There's nothing like sleeping in a theater. Man, I had the weirdest dream! You were there, but you hadn't been born yet. It was weird. Catherine was walking around with a belly the size of an elephant, screeching 'Trowa wants' this, and 'Trowa wants' that, and Heero was playing a videogame, and he looked like the was five years old, but he kept cursing like a sailor, and Hilde was my shrink, kept telling me that I needed to focus, there were too many distractions in my life."

Trowa was reasonably certain that most of Duo's dream recollections were fanciful, but it was an interesting panorama, anyway. Also, Trowa felt an unreasonable sense of pride from the only partially validated assumption that Duo did not normally sleep well, but that he had with Trowa.

They exited the theater side by side, walking into the crowds on the sidewalk, which parted before them as if they were royalty.

In truth, it was more likely the air of promised danger they carried with them. Trowa had been raised by mercenaries, and mercenaries knew how to impress potential clients with intimidation Whether or not they got a contract was 90% the way they carried themselves when they came to the negotiating table. Trowa had learned unconsciously from them, and so even when he wasn't trying to, he walked as if he was ready to rip out throats.

Duo was not so rigorously raised, but growing up on the streets, you survived because you learned that there were only two kinds of people in the world - the prey and the predators. Duo schooled himself in predatory arts since he was old enough to school.

Together, they sent off signals that everyone around them picked up on, whether or not they were aware of it.

Trowa's eyes stayed straight ahead. It was different in the daytime. People were less apt to act according to their instincts when the sun was shining. At night, he and Duo owned the streets.

Duo kept his hands in his pockets as he walked, and he shook out the kinks in his neck loosely. Duo's expression gave the impression of smiling, as if he were happy. It was a carefully modulated version of his natural expression, and Trowa admired how easily Duo ingratiated himself with others.

It took him a moment to appreciate the irony - that was the exact reason he had disliked Duo so much during the war.

"Wanna go get a drink?" Duo didn't look at him as he spoke, but his voice was carefully pitched so that Trowa was utterly certain that he was the one for whom the invitation was being issued.

"Sure," Trowa shrugged. He hooked his thumbs in the belt loops of his pants.

Duo pointed with his chin to the right. "There's a place over there with good music. Usually."

Duo led them to a place called Nemo's, which was dark and loud. There were red couches lining the walls, and a bar in the center, lacquered black, with a mirrored surface. The bartenders were all in black, and they looked extremely bored.

"What's your poison?" Duo had to lean in close to Trowa's ear to be heard. His breath on Trowa's neck tickled.

Trowa had never been a drinker. He had, over the course of his life, perhaps had six drinks total. He hadn't liked any of them. "Gin and tonic." He didn't like gin, or tonic, or the way they tasted when combined, but it was the first thing he thought of, and it was easier to go with that than to think of something else.

Duo nodded. He pointed to a couch in the corner, and went for the bar. Trowa assumed that he knew what Duo meant, so he slipped over to the empty couch, and occupied it.

There were enough people in the bar to make it seem like a good place to be on a Friday night. It was still fairly early, so the gaps in the crowd could be forgiven. Despite the fact that Trowa disliked the company of his fellow men intensely, there was a sense of accomplishment that came with doing something that would appear worthwhile to the average person.

Duo came to the couch holding two drinks, neither of which was a gin and tonic.

He sat down, and handed Trowa a tall, slim glass of something red and clear. He leaned in closely to speak again, although in this corner was probably possible to talk without such proximity. "I know you ordered a gin and tonic, but you don't strike me as the g 'n' t type, so I got you a vodka and cranberry, um, what do they call 'em, a Cape Cod. Try it, it's juicy."

Trowa idly observed the glass, wondering how the bar washed their glassware before deciding that it didn't matter that much. He just touched his lips to the glass, sipping delicately. The drink was light, with a sharp tang to it. He had to admit, it was better than what he thought it would be.

He looked over to Duo, who was taking a long pull of his drink. Duo was drinking something Trowa didn't recognize as his eyes scanned the crowd. It wasn't clear to Trowa whether Duo was being cautious, or if he was looking for something.

"What are you drinking?" Trowa leaned in to ask the question, and when he did, his nose brushed aside the hair framing Duo's ear.

Duo smiled, but didn't turn. "It's a whiskey sour. Wanna taste?"

Trowa had once had a whiskey sour, and didn't like it, but he took Duo's offer anyway, leaning forward and letting Duo handle the glass as he took a minuscule sip, putting his lips where Duo's lips had been.

He nodded shortly as he leaned back.

Duo's eyes tracked the bar for a minute longer before he sat back as well, taking another long pull of his drink as he did. He curled his legs up under him, putting his arm behind him on the back of the couch, so that he could face Trowa. Grinning, he leaned in, speaking softly into Trowa's ear, "I used to meet a dealer here. He only sold little bits, for 'recreational use.' I don't see him now, though. I think he might have been arrested."

Trowa felt his nerves tingle as he considered what Duo had said. There was an illicit touch of danger to the air as he looked around now. He imagined Duo making a deal here; he saw a slim, short girl at the bar talking to a thin man with long, slick hair falling over his face. He imagined that their quick touches were masking their true intentions. Trowa took a large gulp of his drink as he thought of Duo play-flirting with a dealer. "How did you meet him?"

Duo shrugged, his eyes unfocused and his face turned away from Trowa. "It's never hard to get what you want when you know what it is."

Trowa tasted and swallowed that information slowly, like it were a delicacy to be savored until it was nearly losing its flavor, thus ensuring that the maximum pleasure was being extracted. With the patient slowness of a man very sure of himself, Trowa turned toward Duo and put his arm on the back of the couch behind Duo, drawing himself into Duo's personal space.

There was an odd moment of absurdity, when Trowa felt as if they were displaced in space and time. They normally skirted these intimacies in therapy, under the watchful eye of a single man, but now they were on a couch in public, and granted far more privacy than Dr. Clarkson's office could ever hope to give them.

Duo relaxed against Trowa's arm, and smiled at him as he took another drink, finishing off his glass. Trowa became aware of how they appeared from an outsider's perspective, something that he had been noting tangentially ever since they had left the theater. He wasn't sure how to interpret their body language, at least not in the context of an ordinary person's life, nor could he guess at how anyone rated their match. Would the girl with the ostentatious feather boa, desperate for the attention she was eschewing, think that Duo was more beautiful than he? Would the man in the tight, ribbed, black turtleneck think that Trowa was the dominant partner, or the submissive? Would the trio of overly made-up girls who looked like they wished something more exciting were happening think that it was a shame that they were together, instead of both available?

But Duo and he exuded the sort of energy that couples had. The sort of blended syncopation in their disjointed movements that was the earmark of any couple.

They behaved exactly as if they had been sleeping together for months.

While Duo went up to get his drink fixed, Trowa pondered the appropriate reaction to that.

Duo came back, and the small amount of space that had separated them shrunk. Trowa allowed Duo to ingratiate himself into Trowa's personal space easily, the slight rushed daze from the alcohol burning away any desire to analyze the night.

Trowa put his hand on Duo's neck, and leaned in to talk. "Is this the first time you've been here clean?"

Duo sipped his drink, another whiskey sour, as he nodded in time to the music absently. "I think so."

"Is that...?"

"Not really." Duo took another sip, smiling at Trowa privately. "Though, if I had enough money, I'd be looking for the new guy in the bar." Duo winked, and shrugged with a small, unheard laugh, as if he were mocking himself.

Trowa considered it. "What is it like, then? Better than an orgasm, right?"

Duo tensed slightly, and Trowa rubbed Duo's neck between his thumb and forefinger. "I don't know how to describe how it feels. I... I don't know the words. It's... nothing like an orgasm. It's more..."

The sentence trailed off and got lost, and Trowa leaned closer, his eyes closing as his face became close enough to Duo's skin to make the notion of kissing it plausible. He didn't feel buzzed from a half a vodka and cranberry juice, nor did the atmosphere make him dizzy, nor did the proximity to Duo overwhelm his senses, but the combination was working an alchemy over Trowa's blood, which moved thickly through his veins, casting a haze over his thoughts.

Trowa felt a desire for cruelty wash over him, which he was too apathetic to resist.

"Do you miss it?"

Duo was visibly shaken, but he turned his face away so Trowa couldn't see his eyes. "Of course."

"Why did you stop? Did you overdose, or was it just because of work?" Trowa slid his hand down so that his palm was over the place where Duo's neck met his shoulders.

"It wasn't because of work." Duo spoke clearly, but he was turned away, so his voice was being washed out and made transparent by the music. "I have... I have overdosed. It was a lot of things, actually."

"Such as." Trowa leaned in, and his lips were touching the back of Duo's neck as he spoke.

"A lot of things." Duo's voice was practically drowned in the pulsing beat of the music.

Trowa put his other hand on Duo's thigh. "Does it bother you that Heero thinks we're fucking?"

Duo blinked, a motion Trowa only just barely registered. "Why would that bother me?"

"Does it make him angry?"

Duo turned, his eyes meeting Trowa's, and Trowa found himself reflected in the blackness of their wide pupils. "Why does Heero bother you so much?"

"We are friends, aren't we." Trowa narrowed his eyes in concentration.

Duo's nose twitched in humor. "Mind if I have a cigarette?" He pulled out his pack and lighter before Trowa could even dismiss the question. "We are friends, Trowa, but I don't think that's why he bothers you."

"Wouldn't you be bothered if a friend of yours was being..." Trowa watched Duo's agile fingers as he pulled out and lit a cigarette, his lips holding the narrow stick in place.

"I'm not being abused, Trowa. I'm not some weak little victim, begging my oppressor for more." Duo's voice was brittle, but his lips were forming a careless smile.

Trowa finished his drink, annoyed. "Forget I said anything, then."

Duo blew smoke out the corner of his mouth further away from Trowa, thoughtfully looking the other man over. "No, you said it for a reason. You wanna know if it bothers me that Heero, and really, everyone, thinks we're fucking? Then, no, it doesn't." Duo took a long drag off his cigarette, his eyes joking with Trowa. "You're kinda damned sexy, Tro. It only makes me look good, to have people think we're together."

Trowa blinked four times. "That works for everyone but Heero."

Duo cocked his head to the side in surprise. "Hm. Well, I could say that it works for Heero best of all... But really, I don't give a damn what he thinks about me 'n' you. It's none of his god damned business."

Trowa's eyes went blank as he considered it. "Is he good?" Duo pretended not to comprehend, or at least, to be too surprised by the question to answer, so Trowa elaborated. "He must be pretty good, for you to put up with him."

Duo laughed, loudly enough for Trowa to hear him clearly. "He could stand to use more lube." He waited for the laugh to finish, and for his expression to settle, before he spoke again. "I told you before, Tro. There are things that he can give me."

Trowa placed his chin on Duo's shoulder, the one opposite from him, so that he had to lean across Duo's back, thus resulting in a half-embrace. "What he gives you... Did you start getting that after you went clean, or before?"

Duo did not answer right away, and Trowa felt like being patient.

When Duo did speak, he sighed first, his shoulders heaving, moving Trowa up and down. "Before."

Trowa almost spoke again. He almost asked if Duo really felt like he was clean, since he was still smoking and drinking and using Heero, but he suddenly got very tired of talking. He was lazily filled with desire for Duo, abstractly. He wanted, at that moment, to already know Duo in every sense, but he had little ambition for obtaining the knowledge at this juncture.

After a moment, Duo got up to get them more drinks, and Trowa had one more and Duo had three more before they left.

They got a cab together, although they lived apart, and Trowa insisted on dropping Duo first, and picking up the tab, since Duo had gotten the drinks.

In the cab to Duo's apartment, they sat on opposite ends of the cab, their fingertips touching in the middle as they stared out different windows.

It was raining. Trowa watched the water sluice down the window. He sat, watching the alley getting wet. The water was running in a small river down the alley on both sides, falling into the gutters. The pavement, wet and reflecting the light from the lights over the garages lining the alley, looked almost pristine.

It was almost eight, and Trowa hadn't even gotten dressed yet. He spent the night on his back in bed, staring thoughtlessly at the ceiling, perhaps dozing from time to time, and when he got up, it was raining, so he sat down to watch. That was nearly two and a half hours ago, but it was still going strong.

He wanted to call in sick today, but no one believed you if you called in sick when it was raining, and anyway, no one ever believed him when he said he was sick. Most likely, they would think that he had cut himself last night, and needed time to heal.

He was getting cold sitting in the window for so long in only his boxers, but it was a pleasant chill that seeped into his bones and came in waves. He liked it.

It was hard to get dressed when his body was already so satisfactorily arranged. Pulling the cloth over his skin was like rubbing itchy wool over the cheek of a baby. Trowa wanted to spend the day in his boxers in the darkness of his own apartment, and watch the rain. He was in a very bad mood because the universe wasn't letting him do the perfectly reasonable thing he wanted to do.

He didn't bother getting an umbrella when he left his apartment, so by the time he reached the office, he was soaking. He didn't mind, though, because it made people step aside as he walked down the hallways of his workplace.

All day long, people spoke with hushed voices around him, and he was certain that his boss was going to give him a lecture on attitude, or proper working attire, or good hygiene and health practices, or on how not to show up your boss as a lazy, incompetent nitwit ten times before lunch, but miraculously, he never got called in; he found out shortly before five that his boss was away at on off-site meeting.

He walked home, wishing that it were still raining. It misted from time to time, but he didn't get that much wetter. The first thing he did once he closed and locked the door was to strip, trailing clothes behind him, as he headed for the shower. He didn't wash, just let the lukewarm water pour over him. He amused himself by letting the water weigh his hair down so that his face was covered with his bangs. He got out of the shower, and wrapped a towel around his waist, but he didn't bother to dry his body or his hair.

He went to the window to watch the alley, but it was just wet, and not raining anymore. He had missed the best part.

He went to the kitchen and listlessly poured himself a glass of milk. He was oddly hungry, though he didn't want to actually eat anything, so he made himself a peanut butter sandwich by slathering a good knife-full of peanut butter over a slice of bread. He went out to the living room to eat, thinking that he would put in a dvd, but when he sat down before doing so, he figured that it simply was not meant to be.

He ate the peanut butter sandwich warily. He didn't relish the idea of cleaning up after any wayward peanut butter. He defeated the sandwich handily, though.

He had been staring at the ceiling for long enough to have started to think that perhaps he should do something, when the 'phone rang. He continued to stare at the ceiling, his brow furrowed in frustration, until he came to the conclusion that he had to get up to answer it.

Trowa was thinking that it might be Duo, and so he stepped right in front of the vidphone, but then he saw the caller id tag, and so he stepped aside before he initiated the call.


"Trowa. It's good to hear your voice again! How are you?"

"Tired." Trowa wasn't in the mood to listen to Quatre tonight. "I think I may be getting a cold." He contemplated coughing for Quatre's benefit, but then he decided that it wasn't going to matter anyway.

"Oh, what you need to do than is to drink plenty of fluids, preferably tea. Something medicinal would be best. And, soup, perhaps something with leeks. Oh, and don't forget to get plenty of sleep. You do sleep well, don't you, Trowa? My oldest had a cold last week. She drove the nanny crazy! I kept getting all these messages.... I sent some tea along, and apparently that helped. Would you like some?"

Trowa frowned. He didn't like hearing about Quatre's children, for several reasons. "I can get my own tea."

"Oh, but if you are sick, you shouldn't be going out unnecessarily. I can have it sent over, it could be there tonight." Quatre sounded as if he was asking a question, and he was very hopeful that the answer would be positive.

Trowa sighed audibly. "If I didn't want to go out, I could ask Duo to bring me over some tea." He knew his voice was irritated, and he tried to make it sound more so, on the off chance that Quatre would just get annoyed with him.

There was a long pause, the quiet making the room seem darker.

"You're still seeing Duo?" Quatre sounded stiff and disapproving.

Trowa narrowed his eyes at the light on the carpet. "Is that any of your concern?"

"Your concerns are my concerns, Trowa." Quatre sounded so patronizing, like a tired teacher telling his slowest pupil the same lesson for the fiftieth time.

Trowa cleared his throat. "That only goes so far."

"It would go as far as you would let it, you know." The affection in Quatre's voice was spoiled by the ineffectual seductive undertone, and Trowa felt a little nauseous thinking that he had once been attracted to Quatre's sensitivity.

"I'm going to bed now." Trowa cut off the line, sliding to the ground to sit on the carpet. He felt remarkably tired, and he let his chin droop until it was nearly touching his chest, his thoughts murkily slipping this way and that.

He thought about his friendship with Quatre, and when those dark thoughts began to make his skin tingle, he thought about how his friendship with Duo had grown so quickly.

It was circumstances, entirely, but then everything was the product of the convergence of chance, so that was nothing to dwell upon. Duo had life in him, and vibrancy, which was what Trowa craved so much. It was in Duo's skin, and his smell, the way he smiled and laughed, and the way he found a way to get past life's hassles. It never would have occurred to Trowa to even test if the psychiatrist was a pervert, much less take advantage of it.

And Duo's hair was so beautiful. He hadn't taken much notice of it during the war, except to think perhaps that it was functionally arranged. But the temptation of it haunted Trowa now. He could imagine the hair spread out over his skin, and it made the blood rush through him.

Trowa shifted in his place on the floor. He wasn't accustomed to taking such liberties with reality; he had no use for daydreams or fancies. He held his hands in front of him, spreading his fingers out.

Why Quatre was so disturbed by Duo eluded Trowa, but it irked him. There were times when Quatre was so mired in his own troubles that he failed to see how they paled in comparison to the troubles of the average person. Undoubtedly, he looked down on Duo for being a drug addict, but Trowa didn't see how it was that bad, really.

He and Duo were complimentary in their obsessions - he chose pain, while Duo sought out pleasure. Trowa knew that Duo was as disgusted with himself as Trowa was for the choices they had made, but that didn't mean that either one of them should be tossed aside. Wasn't Duo the same person he had been in the war, when he and Quatre had been friends? Didn't Quatre understand that some things were difficult to leave behind, especially when the people you cared about had left you behind?

Trowa frowned, picking as his nails nervously. He didn't know why, exactly, Duo had started using drugs, but there were enough reasons in the world such that another person should be able to understand.

What would be worse than Quatre's disgust was his jealousy.

After the wars had ended, and all the Gundams had been destroyed, Trowa had returned to the circus, and waited for Quatre to call him. Trowa waited a long time, and when Quatre did call, it was with the excited news that he was getting married.

That somehow, though, did not prevent Quatre from making a pass at Trowa when he did visit at the circus, or from offering Trowa a cushy job and a house owned by WEI, so that he and Trowa could stay in 'contact.'

Quatre knew that money and power could get him many things that he desired, but he was essentially too earnest and kind to be any good at seduction. The whole conversation had left Trowa feeling empty and sick, and it tainted his memory of his friendship with Quatre, and their innocent fumbling advances into something more than a platonic relationship, as he sifted through the past looking for the early indications that Quatre only intended to use him.

He tore himself from the inside out, looking for ways in which he should have known, feeling as if he had been abandoned by the person he had thought Quatre was, and then, he tore himself from the outside in, bleeding out the pain.

Trowa's thoughts were in enough of a jumble that he wasn't sure where they were leading him. When he thought about getting up, his eyes tracked to the bathroom, and his legs felt suddenly leaden.

He thought about the way that Duo's eyes had hardened after he saw the band aides on Trowa's fingers from when he gave himself the shallow cuts, and Trowa wrapped his arms around himself, holding his elbows in his palms.

He wanted to call Duo, but perhaps Heero was with him. Trowa hoped that Heero wasn't with Duo. Heero wouldn't lay his hands on Duo's flesh, and let the warmth of Duo's skin seep into his blood. He wouldn't touch his lips to Duo's nipples, or run his hands up Duo's lean flanks, or let his tongue taste Duo's navel.

He wouldn't take the time to appreciate Duo's nude body, stretched out for him like a feast begging to be eaten. He wouldn't lavish Duo's erection with long, lingering licks, tasting the tip with teasing touches.

Heero didn't deserve access to Duo's body.

If Duo thought that there was something that Heero could offer him, that was all well and good, but there was a question of the flesh and blood that Duo was too careless with; if Trowa had Duo's body for his pleasure, he would enjoy it. He would let his hands slip over Duo's skin, and he would press his chest against Duo's back as they rested together, heaving as their bodies began to cool, and Duo's heartbeat would steady his own.

The 'phone rang.

Trowa had no idea what time it was. The room was completely dark, but it would be that at nine pm as much as it would at three am. It could be Quatre, checking up on him.

He quickly realized that he had another problem. He had an erection large enough to be troublesome. He frowned at the offending flesh, scolding it mentally into retreating, but it defied him obstinately. He briefly considered touching it, but the thought held no appeal to him. He pushed the towel that was half-heartedly wrapped around his waist away, and pressed the button to connect the call.

"Trowa?" Duo didn't sound as confident as he normally did. He also sounded very tired.

"I'm here." Trowa wasn't sure exactly how to manage this; Duo didn't like to talk to him when Trowa wasn't in range of the camera, but at the same time, Trowa was naked, and hard.

Duo sighed. "Well."

Trowa got to his knees, and moved over so he was in the sight of the camera. "Yeah."

Duo furrowed his brow, which emphasized how tired he looked. "Trowa... are you naked?"

Trowa titled his head to one side. "Yeah."

Duo grinned, animating his face. "Oh? And how naked are you?"

Trowa shrugged, and stood up. Duo gasped, and Trowa shrugged again.

"Damn, Tro! That is one impressive hard on you got there! What have you been doing?" Duo was opening leering at him, and it made Trowa grin a little.

He knew then that Duo wanted him. Shrugging, Trowa sighed. "Thinking."

"Thinking, huh? I hesitate to ask... Well, what were you planning on doing about that?" Duo leaned forward, so that his face nearly filled the screen. His eyes were awake, and fixed on Trowa's erection.

Trowa looked down at the flesh between his legs, sticking straight up to his stomach. "I'm not sure. I think if I ignore it, it will go away."

Duo laughed, and the sound inspired Trowa to grin a little more. "Well, that's true, I guess... Hey, I'd offer to help you out, but... over the 'phone deals creep me out a little." Duo shrugged apologetically, still smiling wickedly.

Trowa sat down on the arm of his couch, rubbing his neck a little self-consciously. He was deeply aware of Duo's eyes on him, and right now, with the blood pumping fast through him, and the slight endorphin rush of arousal, he was certain that he would know Duo entirely soon. "So. What time is it?"

Duo looked surprised for a second, then laughed shortly. "It's a bit after two. Don't you have any clocks?"

Trowa looked around, as if to be sure before he spoke. "None that I'm aware of."

Duo smiled, shaking his head. "Well. Hope you don't mind that I called. I... didn't feel like going to bed, so I thought, well, Trowa's probably still up..."

Trowa nodded, encouraging. He didn't think about the fact that Duo had likely had Heero over. It wasn't relevant to this conversation.

"So, what do you want to talk about?" Duo leaned back, relaxing.

Trowa blinked. "You called me. Shouldn't you want to talk?" Trowa was certain of the logic in that.

Duo smiled. "Ok. Sure. I was thinking about getting a tattoo."

Trowa leaned forward, interested. "Where?"

Duo blinked, a little surprised at Trowa's eagerness. "Um, I'm not really sure... I was just thinking about that while... Well. Before I called."

Trowa nodded slowly. "On your arm? Or leg?"

Duo considered. "No, I would want it to be more... private. I mean, it wouldn't be something that I'd want just anyone to see."

Trowa agreed. Duo was more modest that he appeared. "On your back. At the small of the back."

Duo tilted his head to the side as he pondered it, and his braid swung behind him. "Hm... well, maybe... but that seems sorta, I don't know... sexual. Or something. Mm, what about between my shoulder blades?"

"Ah, where your angel wings go." Trowa ducked his head down a little to hide his smile. "That's where a powerful chakra is, you know. It's a region of yang energy, connected to the will."

Duo's eyes were perfectly clear as he regarded Trowa. "That sounds about right."

"What do you want to get?" Trowa spoke softly, but he knew that Duo could hear him.

Duo grinned, then cleared his throat. "I dunno. I hate to plan. Maybe I could just pull something off the wall of the place, if that's not too lame?" Duo laughed at himself unselfconsciously.

Trowa felt like laughing, too. "I know a place that's open 24 hours."

Duo started. "Tro! I didn't mean I was gonna do it tonight!" Duo laughed happily, and it made Trowa grin.


Duo laughed harder.

"Not like you were gonna go to sleep anyway..." Trowa reasoned, petulantly.

Duo was smiling as he thought about it. "Well, that's true..."

Trowa sensed the near-capitulation in Duo's voice, and he smirked internally. "It could be fun. We could meet there... and I could watch."

Somehow, he had managed to pitch the tone and timber of his voice so that it sounded suggestive, but not flirtatious.

Duo grinned, nodding his head slowly. "Well... all right. Where is this place... and how do you know about it?"

Trowa shrugged with one shoulder. "Sometimes I take walks at night." He gave Duo directions to the place, which was only ten blocks from Trowa's apartment, roughly.

Duo uh-huh'd and nodded his way through Trowa's directions, but Trowa was certain that Duo knew exactly where it was.

Just as Trowa was about to disconnect the line, Duo winked, leaning close, and said, "Don't forget to get dressed, sexy."

Trowa blinked at the screen until it went blue. Snorting lightly, Trowa switched the screen off and wandered into the bedroom, opening the drawers to his dresser without turning on the light. He pulled out a turtleneck, but he couldn't tell if it was blue or black, so he grabbed the brown pants first, then he thought he would wear jeans, then he thought he would wear the dark cords, and then he decided to wear a t-shirt and jeans, with a corduroy shirt as a jacket.

He was pleased with himself for being able to pick an outfit when he realized that he needed underwear, too. This annoyed him, and he tossed all of his underwear out of their drawer and onto the floor so he could pick a pair at random.

He left the apartment feeling rushed, because he wasn't sure how long it had been since he'd disconnected from Duo. He wondered if Duo would mind waiting for him in the tattoo parlor. Trowa didn't want to miss watching it get done.

He should have worn a jacket. He came to that conclusion quickly. Instead of the pleasant coldness of the morning, now Trowa was just annoyed.

The parlor was called Lazy Eye Tattoo, and the front was painted electric blue. It was bright, even though nothing else around looked open. Trowa pushed his way in a bit reluctantly. He was hoping that Duo was already there.

Duo was there, and was cheerfully chatting with the overweight, short, heavily tattooed man who was clearly the one who would be inflicting his art on Duo's body. The guy was showing Duo some of the designs available from a book, looking over Duo's frame as he flipped through the pages.

Trowa wasn't worried that the guy was interested in Duo, but it did cross his mind that the guy might think that Duo was an addict. Not that Trowa could blame him, but since he was talking to Duo, Trowa figured that the guy would do Duo's tat anyway.

Duo smiled brightly at Trowa as soon as the door jingled, and Trowa thought that most people would have been forgiven if they thought that it was weird that Duo was so chipper at this hour of the morning.

"Hey, Tro, come look at these... What do you think of a Celtic design?" Duo was pointing to a page in the book.

Trowa noticed that his braid was much looser than normal, and had a lot of loose ends sticking out. He wondered if it always looked like that after it had been slept on; he wondered if Duo ever needed help fixing it. "Cool."

Duo bit his lip. "Ah... I don't wanna rush into this, but... mm, lessee... There are these cool knots... And this thing, this is called the devil's eye, or something..." Duo pointed to a knot that was formed around what looked like a red jewel. "And then there's these animal ones... I kinda like the lion... hm..."

Something caught Trowa's eye. "What about this one?"

Duo wrinkled his nose a little. "It kinda looks like a butterfly, doesn't it?"

"Well," Trowa replied, "take out these lines at the top... It's called Tribal Flight."

Duo looked it over more closely, his expression slowly warming. The design in question was all black, with bold swashes forming two top-heavy wings, with swirls in the middle and at the ends. With the two thinner lines in the middle removed, it looked quite stunning.

Duo grinned at the tattoo guy. "Is that ok? Can you do it without these lines?"

The guy nodded quickly. "Sure, whatever ya want, I can do. Ready?"

Duo turned to Trowa, raising his eyebrows slightly. "I can't believe you talked me into this... What about you, you want one?"

Trowa looked around vaguely. "I don't think... I should indulge my enjoyment of needles." He spoke so that Duo could hear him, but the guy couldn't. He didn't want to be misinterpreted.

Duo rolled his eyes. Muttering under his breath, "Right, right, that's your excuse for everything... I'm suicidal, I can't play with sharp things or I might off myself... Whatever, Tro." Speaking up, "Ok! Let's go!"

There were a quick form for Duo to fill out, and then there was the process of preparing the skin. Mostly, given where it was, that just meant that it was cleaned, but it seemed to take the artist a long time to wash his hands and get his needles and ink ready. Everything had to be kept sterile, so the artist wore latex gloves, and kept everything else on clean paper towels and plastic.

Duo was on his belly on the table, his shirt off and his braid swinging over his shoulder. Trowa picked up the bottom of the braid, and played with the hair. Duo grinned up at him with a wink.

The whirl of the tattoo needle started up, and Duo gasped just a little, his eyes widening. Trowa didn't know if the pain was bad, or good, but he stroked Duo's cheek gently, gaining another wink.

When it was done, the tat was glistening brightly between Duo's shoulder blades, the raised scab brighter and more distinct that the final tat would be. The artist snapped a quick picture of his work, and Duo paid him, giving him a decent tip for his efforts.

They walked back to Trowa's apartment together, slowly. Duo was breathing a little heavily, and would occasionally roll his arms around their sockets. They didn't speak, and Trowa avoided looking at Duo too much.

He didn't like the way his flesh felt hot from watching Duo being marked.

Duo took a nap on Trowa's couch, sleeping on his belly so he wouldn't aggravate the wound.

When they left for work at the same time hours later, Duo teased Trowa about being a voyeur, but he stopped when Trowa only smiled serenely in response. Just as they were getting to the corner where they would separate for the day, Trowa brushed Duo's hair around his ear, and smiled at him.

"I like your tat, Duo."

Grinning, Duo leaned up and kissed Trowa's chin. "Thanks. Me too."

Trowa leaned up against the back of the elevator as he and Duo left their latest session. He was thoroughly annoyed with himself; he had let himself get way too involved, and become aroused. More than that, Dr. Clarkson's questions beforehand kept niggling in the back of his head as he put his hands over Duo's skin.

He wanted to take Duo right there on the couch. He wanted to use Duo, to pour his frustration and loneliness and fear and sorrow into Duo's body, and let Duo absorb everything bad about him and leave him empty and clean.

He felt like Heero.

"Hey, you doin' anything tomorrow?"

Trowa glared at Duo from behind his bangs, but Duo just regarded him blandly, waiting for a response. Trowa shook his head in negation once, quickly.

Duo ginned. "Wanna go to the International Fest tomorrow? It should be interesting... lots of good food, good music, good fun. What do ya say?"

Trowa watched Duo, just standing in front of the elevator buttons, casual and relaxed. He wondered if Duo wanted him to use him. He wondered if Duo even cared.

Duo rolled his eyes exaggeratedly and sighed audibly, for effect. "C'mon, Tro! The weather is supposed to be good this weekend. It could be the last chance this year to wander around outside and pretend to be social. Let's go!"

His head bent down a little, obscuring his face from view marginally. He didn't want to go. He wanted to stay home and do nothing, maybe do some laundry. Maybe clean the bathroom.

Shivering, Trowa looked up, his chin jutting forward so his hair appeared to stick straight out from his head. "All right."

Duo grinned. "Great! It's closer to me, so howzabout you come by my place tomorrow at about seven?"

Trowa nodded, just a little.

When they got out to the sidewalk, Trowa waited for Duo to light his cigarette, but neither of them spoke. They separated wordlessly, with only a small wave from Duo to signify the parting. Trowa went home, and sat on his couch. He thought about going to get a paper, so that he could read up on the festival tomorrow, but he didn't care that much.

He was sure Duo would plan everything anyway.

He put his head down on the arm of the couch, and stared at the wall as the night got darker. He felt ambivalent, which was enough of an improvement to the way he had been feeling that he decided to rest and enjoy it.

Trowa spent an hour sitting on his bed in front of the closet deciding what to wear. It wasn't that he was trying to achieve a certain 'look' or that he was being picky about his clothes. He actually should have done his laundry yesterday and he didn't want to get up to find things that were both clean and matched. He ended up wearing a plain white oxford shirt and jeans.

He also spent fifteen minutes brushing his hair because the repetitive motion of the brush over his scalp was soothing. He imagined that he was brushing Duo's hair, holding it in his hands as he smoothed out the bottom of Duo's long, thick locks. It was enjoyable enough to merit time thinking about it.

He planned to walk to Duo's, so that he would be tired before they even got to the fest, but then he was so late he decided to get a cab. He called the only place he knew the number for, and ended up waiting nearly a half an hour for it to come. He was already ten minutes past the time Duo had told him to show up before he even got into the back of the cab but he didn't think about calling Duo as he assumed the other man could figure out that he was running late without being told.

The drive to Duo's went by too fast for Trowa's liking. He couldn't properly watch the buildings as he passed them. There were a lot of people walking around that night, and it unsettled him slightly. He tapped his fingers on the plastic of the door. He had an annoying amount of anticipation buzzing his nerves, and he wanted to calm down, maybe be alone.

It took him the length of the taxi ride to realize that the reason he was so anxious was because he didn't want to be in public with Duo. It was natural to go out with a friend. When people took the next step in a relationship, a date was the usual place to start. It was the proper progression of events.

Trowa was not accustomed to relationships or social mores. He knew about them, but he had little personal experience with them. The idea of 'dating' Duo did not appeal to Trowa at all; he didn't think that Duo would want to 'date' either. They were friends - that had been clearly established. If they wanted to become physically involved, they just needed to be alone.

The rest was a waste of time.

Trowa paid the cabbie with single bills, leaving him with only larger bills. He walked up to Duo's building. He had never come here to visit without Duo to get the doors. Trowa wasn't sure what kind of security the building had, or how he was supposed to contact Duo. Fortunately, the question was moot anyway, because just as he was about to get to the building's front door, Duo stepped out, grinning from ear to ear.

"Hey! I just decided I would wait for you down here, and here you are! Talk about timing, huh?" Duo pulled out a cigarette as he spoke, stopping only for a beat before Trowa before turning and heading off in the direction of the fest. "So, how goes it?"

Trowa shrugged, even though Duo was a half step ahead of him and therefore couldn't see. "Sorry I'm late."

Duo shrugged, looking over his shoulder to smirk at Trowa. "Forget it. I barely noticed. What's twenty minutes between friends? Anyway, there's no schedule."

Trowa ambled behind Duo just a step, his hands in his pockets as Duo smoked and jauntily walked with a little too much energy. Trowa got a funny vision of Duo strung out on coke and it scared him. He was almost glad that heroin had been Duo's drug of choice. He wasn't sure why Duo was pretending to be so exuberant, but it bothered him just a little. Duo's behavior was only exacerbating his own anxiety.

Duo's braid swung back and forth. The end of it was tied off with a thick black holder, which was twisted around the end of his braid at least seven or eight times. Trowa had to resist the urge to reach out and grab the braid. That gave him the funny mental picture of walking Duo like a dog using the braid as a leash.

Trowa decided that he shouldn't have mental pictures anymore.

The festival was being held in a sidewalk-shopping district that ended in a park. There were band tents set up, as well as beer tents, and the whole street was filled with people and kiosks and stores with their door flung open, people walking in and out of them as if they were merely rooms in a house.

The road and the entrances to the park were cordoned off, and you had to pay to get in. Duo walked past two entrances as he led Trowa in a circuit around the whole festival area.

Trowa was about to make a joke of some sort or another, when he saw the reason for the scenic route. He stopped dead in his tracks as soon as he saw the sullen frame of Heero Yuy, and Duo stopped short too, though his back was still to Trowa.

Turning with an apologetic grin, Duo shrugged his shoulders. "Ah, look, I should have said something earlier, but... Well, obviously, Heero is here, too. Sorry. But, well, he had told me about this months ago, see, Relena is supposed to make some sort of speech or something later on tonight, and he needs to be here with her, so he had asked me to come, and when I asked you, I had sorta forgotten that Heero was gonna be here too, but it's no big deal 'cause he's really here with Relena and all anyway."

Somehow, Duo had managed to say all of that without sounding rushed or apologetic. Trowa blinked in awe of Duo's auditory skill.

He took one half-glance at the near murderous glint in Heero's eye, and Trowa decided that this would be the night that he had sex with Duo.

He didn't let his thoughts drift to seduction as he and Duo made their way to Heero's side. He shored up his defenses as he prepared to meet the ire in Heero's glare.

"What's he doing here?" Heero kept his eyes on Duo alone, exhaling through his nose loudly like a bull ready to charge.

Duo just smiled falsely. "Hello, Heero. Good to see you. How've you been? Oh, I hope you don't mind, but I invited Trowa to come along, too."

Heero gritted his teeth. "I suppose you like to keep a john ready as a backup, hm?"

Sighing contentedly in an obvious fashion, Duo stretched his arms out. "Nice day for a fest, huh? I'm looking forward to some good eats! So, where's her majesty, eh?"

Heero blew air out his mouth to push his bangs from his eyes. "She's going to be late. She's got important things to tend to; she doesn't have time to spend all day here."

"That's too bad." Duo's head tipped to the side as he spoke, and it was clear that he really did think it was a shame. "She works too hard. If you really cared about her, you'd make her take a break."

Heero stared at Duo like he had six heads sticking out of his ears.

Duo rolled his eyes. "In any case, she should be able to be young sometime before she starts sprouting gray hairs. Wanna go in?"

Duo didn't wait for either man to respond, and Heero and Trowa ended up walking nearly shoulder to shoulder as they tried to stay close to Duo. They each paid for their own entry, and by the time that Trowa got his hand stamped to get in, Duo was already rocking on his feet, biting his bottom lip with excitement as he took in the lay of the land. The workings of his mind were visible in his eyes, as if a map with x's and check marks was imprinted in the lines of his blue-purple irises.

Heero went to Duo's right, so Trowa stayed on Duo's left. Duo wanted to go to the section of the shops devoted to the colonies right away. There were flags of every nation and colony strung out in lines overhead, and there were lights and music everywhere.

Trowa found it all annoyingly overdone, but Duo was so excited by everything that Trowa managed to find amusement where he could. Mostly, he found amusement in watching Heero sulk as Duo directed all of his comments to Trowa, and bounced around almost too haphazardly to be matched.

Duo bought a model of L2, and also one of L3 for Trowa. He showed Heero the model of L1, but Heero scoffed that he wasn't actually a native of the colony. Duo shrugged and went to the next kiosk.

Trowa bought hot dogs made from organic material produced on L4, which Heero scowled at as if they were chemical weapons. Trowa wasn't sure that he was wrong when he was eating them, but Duo was happy enough with the food that he ignored the taste and the feeling of the food filling his mouth and grating over his tongue.

Trowa listened to Duo chatter with only half his attention. The way that Heero would respond to Duo with barbs and taunts that Duo would ignore sharpened Trowa's nerves. He didn't like the way that Heero was talking to Duo, but he wasn't going to confront Heero right there. He knew an opportunity would arise. He would take advantage of a moment that was coming, and he would get Duo alone.

He liked to be alone with Duo. He liked the way that Duo didn't force himself to smile around him, and the way that Duo would laugh when he was really amused. He watched carefully, staying close to Duo and keeping alert to Heero's every movement as he waited for the moment.

They ate fried confections from the American kiosk, and éclairs from the French kiosk, and pork buns from the Japanese kiosk, and when they got to the kiosk from Morocco, they had no room for the treats available there.

Heero got progressively more and more rigid with each teasing glance or wink from Duo trained at Trowa. When Trowa pointed aimlessly at the face painting booth, manned by a ridiculous clown, Heero took possession of Duo's braid and pulled him forcibly in the opposite direction.

Trowa narrowed his eyes, and followed decisively.

"Hey! Hey!! Heero, lay of the braid, willya?" Duo's shout caught the attention of many bystanders, and several people shied away from the trio of men distrustfully.

Heero glared at everything that had the misfortune of being in the line of his sight. "We're going to miss Relena's speech."

"Oh, man... aren't you supposed to be on the stage with her? You are her fiancé. Ow! Damn it, man, get your hands off the hair!" Duo grabbed a hold of his braid with both hands half way down, and stopped abruptly.

Trowa nearly walked into Duo, and he put his hands on Duo's shoulders as he came up behind him. Heero glared furiously at Trowa's hands on Duo, and then looked at Trowa with hate pouring out of him.

Trowa smirked at Heero.

Heero snarled, and went to grab Duo by the waist. "Let's go."

Duo had no choice but to keep up with Heero as Heero dragged him to the main tent in the middle of the park, and Trowa had to walk with long, fast strides to stay with the other two. The tent was filling fast, but Heero kept to the right aisle, and went half way up to the stage. There was a tent pole there, with a few chairs around it that were unoccupied. Trowa had to go back to the back of the tent to find a chair, and by the time he brought it back up to the where they were, Heero had Duo's chair backed up against the tent pole, and his next to Duo. There wasn't even any room next to Heero, as he would have been blocking the aisle, so the only place left for Trowa to put his chair was behind the other two.

Duo tried to turn around to apologize to Trowa, but Heero had his arm over the back of Duo's chair and was leaning over to talk into Duo's ear. They appeared to be having something of an argument, though the way that Duo's eyes blazed and his cheeks flushed, Trowa almost thought that they were engaging in some verbal foreplay.

He would have been disgusted to be pushed aside so that they could flirt and play, but the MC was trying to get the attention of the audience, and it was clear that Relena would be speaking soon. It was inevitable that Trowa would get a chance to get Duo alone. If he had his chance, and he failed to achieve his goal, than it would be Duo's choice. Trowa was determined to give Duo the choice.

Everyone quieted, and Heero pulled his arm away from Duo, holding his elbows in his palms as he leveled his glare at the stage. Trowa watched Duo surreptitiously pull out a cigarette as the mc went through the opening greetings.

Heero made a face when he smelled Duo's clove cigarettes, but he didn't say anything or move.

There were several politicos talking, from every level of government, before Relena finally came to the podium. Trowa hadn't seen her since just after the wars, so he wasn't prepared for how different she looked in person. A photograph or a news video didn't do her justice. She had grown up, and it was more than the physical changes or style changes that were only natural given the time that had passed. It was more than the calm that fueled her speech as she stilled the crowd and filled the tent with her pleasant nonwords.

It was the indefinable something that separated an adult from a child. Trowa was happily surprised to see that she had transformed so well.

She got a standing ovation when she was done, and it was only as Trowa got to his feet that he realized that Duo was pointedly not looking at Relena, his body taut and his leg bouncing nervously.

Heero wasn't looking at Duo or at Relena, and he looked just as sullen as a child who was told he had to sit still while the grown ups talked.

Trowa clapped louder for Relena as he entertained the notion of Heero as a spoiled child.

The crowd dispersed slowly after the speeches. Duo had a skill for maneuvering through the obstacle course of humanity, but Heero was dogging Duo's heels, and Trowa had a hard time following the path behind them. When they got out of the tent, they slipped and dodged through the knots of people until they were able to find a place by the fence on the fringe to talk. Heero stood perpendicular to Duo, whose back was against the chain links, and Heero's arm was over Duo's shoulder. The posture was so territorial that Trowa almost laughed as he stepped around Heero's elbow to stand next to Duo on his other side.

If Duo was aware of any tension between the other two men, he was obviously enjoying ignoring it. Turning to Heero, he asked, "When and where are you supposed to meet up with Relena?"

Heero scowled, his fingers clenching the fence over Duo's shoulder with enough force to bend the thin metal slightly. "She's going to call. You're going to come to dinner with us, right." That was phrased as if it were a question, but it was obvious from his tone and expression that Heero was not allowing any uncertainty.

Duo looked away pointedly, forcing an expression that would have appeared comical to anyone who didn't know him. "Oh, was that her majesty's command? Far be it from me to disappoint a queen."

"Don't be such an ass." Heero blew his hair out of his eyes with all the annoyance he could muster, the hair fleeing from his ire wisely.

"But Heero, my ass is the only thing you like about me. If I lose that, then maybe, gasp! You might leave me!" Duo affected the drama with his voice, but his eyes were pure sarcasm.

Trowa smiled, brushing lint off of his sleeve distractedly. His eyes drifted over the crowd passively, as he lazily cataloged all the people as he was trained to do as a mercenary. He was amused when he noticed that there was no one there that he would even have to break a sweat over to pummel, and for a moment he wished that the small group of college-aged frat boy types would start some trouble, because it looked like it would be fun to beat them senseless.

Heero eyed Duo with the same intensity he would give a bug before stomping on it. "Can you try to be a little less like the gutter trash you are for an hour? Relena's not used to mucking through sewers."

"Well," Duo drawled conversationally, "she's used to putting up with your attitude, so maybe a stroll through a sewer would be a welcome change of pace for her."

Heero's focus narrowed until it was clear that all his senses were pinpointed on Duo, and Trowa was more than a little afraid that, public venue or not, Heero was going to belt Duo across the face. Duo calmly stood there, looking at Heero with satisfied anticipation.

Trowa put his hand on Duo's shoulder, close to his neck, and pointed with his other hand to the cotton candy vendor down the way. "Have you ever had that stuff?"

Duo blinked six times. His eyes shifted from Heero to Trowa and then to the vendor slowly and deliberately. He considered the question carefully before he committed himself to an answer. "Sure. Haven't you? You've lived in a circus; I refuse to believe you've never had cotton candy."

Trowa shrugged, noncommittally. "I know how it's made." That seemed to be answer enough for all three of them.

Heero folded his arms over his chest, pensively glaring at the vendor. "It looks disgusting."

"It is," Duo replied cheerfully. "It's actually sweet enough to rot your teeth while you eat it. Your teeth fall out as you bite into it. It was invented as part of a dental conspiracy to drum up business."

Heero looked appalled, probably more at the notion that Duo might actually believe that, but before he could speak, his phone rang. He took two steps away from Duo and Trowa, but only after he gave Trowa a look that was undoubtedly supposed to be intimidating. He spoke to Relena in clipped tones, his voice edgy, as if he was putting himself out to speak to her at all.

Trowa realized when Heero turned away that he still had his hand on Duo. Duo seemed to be comfortably aware of this fact already, and his body was leaning ever so slightly in Trowa's direction. A warmth filled Trowa's blood as he thought about touching Duo, and having his body leaning into Duo's. His plans for the evening seemed to crystallize, and for a shining moment, he knew that he would be successful.

"Having fun?" Duo smiled up at Trowa hopefully.

Trowa brushed his thumb over Duo's skin idly. Duo looked good in the weak artificial light of the park, his skin bright and his eyes looking electric at that moment. Trowa shook his head quickly, and shrugged uselessly. "Whatever."

Duo grinned. "Ah, a classic Trowa response. Don't tell me the concept of fun is so irrelevant to you?"

"I like to have fun," Trowa said, proud of the flirtation he was able to thread into his words, "but I prefer it to be more one on one."

Duo had raised his eyebrow in wonder, the corner of his lip turning up with intrigue. Before he could speak, Heero grabbed his braid.

"Let's go. Relena has to meet with some people, so we have some time before she can meet us." Heero walked away with purpose, his hand still holding Duo's braid as he started off, letting it fall from his grasp.

Duo and Trowa had to rush a little to keep up with him. Duo asked him what the hurry was, but Heero completely ignored him. They made their way back to the street with all the kiosks, and Heero went to the section that sold Japanese items.

Taking Duo's arm and pulling Duo next to him, Heero pointed to the hair ornaments laid out on velvet. "Help me pick something for Relena." His voice made the request sound like an order.

There was only so much room under the tiny umbrella of the kiosk, so Heero and Duo stood with their sides touching, and Trowa was left outside.

Trowa wasn't concerned, as he took the chance to look over Duo's backside, and the way the braid trailed down and rested just at the place Duo's cheeks met.

After Heero had paid for the item that Duo had picked but Trowa had not been able to see, Heero took off again. Duo grabbed his hand to ask where they were going, but Heero just glared and grunted something about a restaurant.

Duo smiled at Trowa apologetically. "I guess that's where we're going to meet Relena."

Heero was two steps ahead of them, and there was a small enclave just there where the vendors had set up a banner.

This was his chance.

Trowa took Duo's hand, and pulled him behind the banner. Duo followed obediently, but his confusion was etched over his face. He was about to speak when Trowa reached out to brush Duo's bangs out of his face. "I'm not hungry."

"Oh," Duo looked in the direction Heero had been heading, "well, me neither, really, but Relena..."

Trowa leaned in and kissed Duo. At first, it was hard, and forceful, but as Duo recovered from the shock, it softened and deepened. Trowa slipped his arms around Duo, and he could feel Duo's hands slipping up his arms, stopping just short of his shoulders.

There was an excitement in Trowa's body, as he felt he was right there on the precipice of the rest of the night.

When they broke apart, Duo's lips stayed parted, his cheeks flushed slightly, and it turned Trowa on just a little, to see him like that. "Trowa?" Duo asked, his eyes conveying mirth as he spoke in surprised delight.

Trowa shrugged with a grin. "I got tired of waiting for the next therapy session."

Duo blinked, before a smile slowly spread over his face, like the sun peaking through the clouds on a rainy day. Trowa had just enough time to begin to grin before Duo's mouth touched his again, and he was busy pulling Duo closer to his body while mentally calculating how long it would take Heero to realize that he was alone.

Duo let his lips brush against Trowa's for a moment after they separated. "Ya know... it is kinda nicer with out some pervy old man watching."

Trowa drawled with his usual dry humor, "Well, there is that guy at the table over there."

Duo laughed out loud, leaning against Trowa as if he didn't have the strength to steady himself.

Trowa felt the anticipation in his toes, as he flexed them inside his boots. "Maybe we could try it with some privacy. Might be fun."

There was humor and excitement in Duo's eyes, but he worried looked over his shoulder. "Oh, yeah... but, Heero..."

"Has Relena." Trowa spoke firmly, and if he couldn't keep all the bitterness out of his voice, then it wasn't entirely his fault.

Duo looked over his shoulder for only a beat longer, before he beamed at Trowa. "My place is closer."

Trowa nodded with relief, and they walked together out of the festival limits, back to Duo's place.

They walked side-by-side, close enough so that their hands would occasionally brush against each other. Trowa's skin seemed to be hypersensitive at the point where Duo's hand would touch him, and it made Trowa's heart pound to think of having Duo naked with him. They didn't speak, but then, they rarely did when they walked together. Trowa found himself wondering what Duo was thinking right now. It was a disconnected thought, as he had long ago accepted that it was impossible to ever know anyone else's thoughts or feelings.

Trowa wanted to hear Duo's voice right now, though, because he didn't want to be alone. He had a small knot of ice in his belly as he tried not to think about how things had ended with Quatre, and where that had left him. He remembered the feeling of being physically close to someone, and not even knowing their name, and the feeling of touching someone he cared about, and then being left behind.

He inched a little closer, letting his knuckles rub against Duo's. He needed Duo right now. He could have turned to look at Duo, but his head was fixed at staring straight ahead.

They got to Duo's building, and into Duo's apartment all too quickly. Everything seemed too normal, and as Duo randomly walked around, turning on and off lights, putting in a cd, then changing his mind, switching to the radio, then turning it off, Trowa realized that Duo was nervous.

It calmed him enough to walk into Duo's bedroom and sit down on the edge of the bed without waiting for Duo to follow.

Duo wandered in after Trowa, looking like he wasn't sure which direction he should have been going. He smiled nervously at Trowa, his hand almost unconsciously going to the back of his head.

It was quiet. Trowa wasn't sure if he should say something or not, so he took his shirt off.

Duo's eyes seemed to be drawn to Trowa's naked chest. He moved toward Trowa without thinking about it. His fine, elegant hands fluttered around the bottom of his shirt, uncertainly.

"I... I guess I should..." Duo made a motion like he was going to take his shirt off, but his hands weren't in contact with the cloth. He licked his lips as his eyes stayed fixed on Trowa's bare chest.

Trowa stood up, shucking off his shoes as he took the three steps to stand in front of Duo. "Let me." Trowa spoke quietly, so quietly that if there had been any other noise in the room, Duo wouldn't have been able to hear him.

Duo reacted to the sound of Trowa's voice without sound or movement.

Trowa's mouth was watering, and his brain was slowly switching to stimulus/response mode. He put his hands on Duo, closing his fingers around Duo's slim waist, and he felt his spine get hot. Leaning in, Duo reached up to kiss him gently, in what would have been a purely platonic motion were Trowa's hands not snaking under Duo's clothes. Trowa pulled Duo's shirt up slowly, letting his hands rest flatly against Duo's skin as he moved his hands up. He passed over Duo's nipples, which he was overly pleased to realize were peaked.

Duo raised his arms to let Trowa pull his shirt off, and then Trowa just tossed it aside so that he could brush Duo's hair away from his face in tiny movements. Trowa leaned in closer, stepping in so that his toes were right in front of Duo's toes, and their bodies were only inches apart, and then Trowa's lips were touching Duo's skin, over his eyes and under his jaw and right next to his ear. Trowa was enthralled by the smell of Duo's hair, and the way Duo's hands touched him tentatively, and then way Duo was breathing so heavily he could feel the air from Duo's lungs against his skin.

Trowa spoke softly. "Do you have lube? Condoms?"

"Yes." Duo leaned in and kissed Trowa's neck, pulling himself against Trowa by hooking his hands around Trowa's shoulders. Their chests touched, and Trowa could feel Duo from his neck down to his waist.

Trowa sighed, feeling perfectly alive. He ran his hand down the line of Duo's spine, feeling Duo tingle under him.

"Should I..." Duo licked his lips. "Should I turn on the light?"

Trowa shrugged. "There's enough light from the hall."

Duo nodded, and Trowa slowly got to his knees, keeping his lips on Duo's skin as he slid down. Trowa placed his mouth on Duo's stomach with something that would have been reverence if he were capable of it. Duo put his hands on top of Trowa's head, and made some sort of noise that Trowa wasn't wasting time to interpret. He put his fingers on the button of Duo's jeans, and opened them up with extreme care, like he was defusing a bomb.

Duo seemed to be struggling to breathe, his fingers digging into Trowa's scalp somewhat uncomfortably. "You... you don't have to be so careful."

Trowa did respond. He peeled back the jeans a little, revealing Duo's plain white boxers. Trowa kissed Duo's skin along the line of the top of Duo's boxers. Trowa's fingers slipped under the elastic of Duo's boxers slowly, and he began to slide Duo's jeans and boxers down. Duo helpfully stepped out of his pants, and Trowa pulled off Duo's socks as he did. Once all of the clothing had been pushed aside, Trowa rested back on his haunches as he looked up at Duo, completely nude.

He felt a lump in his throat and a burning heat in his blood. Reaching up, he snagged the end of Duo's braid pulling it forward. He intended to slip the band off the end of Duo's braid, but he was slow to act, as he thought about Duo's hair on his bare skin. Before he could pull off the band, though, Duo made a negative sound, and pulled his braid away from Trowa.

His eyes were clouded as he spoke, stumbling over his words, "It would just get in the way."

Trowa nodded, and then he put his mouth on Duo's cock.

Duo shook with the vibrations from Trowa's mouth, and Trowa wrapped his arms around Duo's waist to steady him. Duo's hands in Trowa's hair became painfully demanding, but Trowa didn't mind, as he took it as encouragement.

"Trowa..." The need in Duo's voice made Trowa groan, which sent shockwaves through Duo's nervous system. "Trowa... you don't... you don't need to..."

Trowa didn't bother to find out what he didn't need to do because he was too busy licking Duo's balls. Breathing deeply, Trowa felt like he might get high off the primal scent from just beneath the base of Duo's cock.

Duo grabbed Trowa's hair abruptly, pulling him up so that he could take Trowa in a hard, forceful kiss. Trowa was more than willing to lean into the kiss, and he soon had Duo leaning back with one knee up on the bed. Duo's hands were moving over Trowa's body frantically, driving Trowa to push further. Duo sat down on the bed with a whoosh, his hands on Trowa's body all the time. He started to unbutton Trowa's pants distractedly, his face flushed and his eyes shining brightly.

"How do you want to do it?" The question seemed spurious, and completely out of place, even though it was necessary.

Trowa merely stepped out of his pants and put his legs on either side of Duo's thighs. "In me."

Duo's eyes widened momentarily. "Sure?"

Trowa leaned down, pushing Duo back onto the bed, devouring his mouth and neck and shoulder and nipple.

They tumbled over the bed a few times, pushing against each other with their whole bodies. Duo got Trowa on his back, Trowa's wrists in his hands and Trowa's thigh captured between his. Trowa arched his back to gain full contact, and Duo chucked from deep in his chest.

There was fumbling as Duo found the lube and condoms, and then Trowa put the condom on Duo, taking his time and licking Duo's stomach as he did. Duo groaned, and then flipped Trowa over to prepare him. Trowa had his leg over Duo's shoulder, his other leg spread nearly perpendicular to his body.

Duo shook his head. "Man, you have an amazing body..." His voice was deep and thick, and he took Trowa in his mouth as his fingers pressed into Trowa's body.

It had been a long time for Trowa. He hadn't been touched in so long. He was tight, but Duo's fingers were long and slim, and Duo's mouth was hot, and Trowa wasn't thinking anymore, his body writhing under Duo as he let all the sensations rule him.

Duo worked fast, but he was careful, and it felt like it was only a heartbeat later than Duo was inside of him, pounding inside of him, Duo's braid slipping over his shoulder to lay on Trowa's chest, moving with Duo as Duo's hips gyrated in a fleshy rhythm, the percussion beat of their bodies meeting keeping time.

Trowa opened his mouth to scream or moan or cheer or beg, but the only sound he could make was a whimper. His hands were on Duo's shoulders, and his finger flexed over Duo's skin.

Unexpectedly, Trowa flipped them over, surprising both of them. Duo was now on his back, and Trowa was straddling him, his hands on Duo's chest.

Trowa blinked, five times.

When Trowa started to move, it was much slower than the breakneck pace that Duo had been setting. He clenched his ass as he pulled up, milking Duo with each stroke. He let his hands spread over Duo's chest, his fingers brushing over Duo's nipples.

Duo's eyes were open, and Trowa stared down into Duo. Duo didn't blink, just stared up at Trowa, his mouth open just a little, his cheeks pink with excitement.

Duo's eyes were fathomless. Trowa leaned down further and further with each stroke, until his forehead would bump Duo's.

Duo's eyes fluttered closed, and he groaned, "Trowa!"

Trowa felt his body tighten at the sound of Duo's voice.

Duo's hands came up and grabbed Trowa's neck. He pulled Trowa down, and they kissed, Duo taking Trowa's tongue between his teeth and biting with enough pressure to make Trowa growl.

"Trowa... Trowa, faster, Trowa... god damn it..." Duo sighed and groaned, thrusting his hips as he clutched Trowa's neck and shoulders, and did everything he could to make Trowa just go faster, harder...

As Trowa was sliding up, Duo pushed forward, and then Trowa was on his back again, his head over the edge of the bed and Duo plowed into him, taking Trowa's cock into his hands, his face contorted with the effort.

Trowa didn't know he was going to come when he did, and he didn't know when Duo came or what happened after that.

There was the sound of breathing that punctuated the silence, and Trowa blinked, finding Duo resting on his chest, his hand running up and down Duo's back.

"Trowa..." Duo whimpered, his hand moving over Trowa's chest. "God damn it..."

Trowa smiled.

Duo sat up after what felt like a few minutes had passed, moving like he had been in battle for the last twelve hours. He pulled the condom off his dick, and tossed it in the direction of the garbage can carelessly. He rubbed the back of his neck, stretching out a little from his seated position, his messy braid trailing down his back, as if forgotten.

Trowa grinned, feeling ridiculously happy.

"Man... I'm sleepy." Duo grinned at Trowa from over his shoulder, his hand still behind his neck.

Trowa sighed, pulling himself up. Brushing his fingers over Duo's cheek, he smiled. "Put your head down, then, silly."

He got up, feeling loose and wet. He went into Duo's bathroom, and turned the water on so that it would run warm. He looked at his reflection in the mirror from the corner of his eye so that he wouldn't get too involved at looking at himself. His hair was sticking out in every direction, the long part in the front mostly standing straight up from his forehead.

Trowa grabbed a washcloth from the rail, and put it under the water. When the cloth was suitably warm, he put it between his legs, then over his chest. He rinsed it under the water again before turning the water off, wringing the cloth gently before padding back into the bedroom.

Duo was horizontal over the blanket, his eyes half closed and his hands under his face in a manner that Trowa could only describe as cute. Of course, he didn't say anything. Trowa sat down on the bed next to Duo, and gently ran the cloth between Duo's legs, and over his body, cleaning him with clinical fondness.

Duo opened his eyes, and grinned up at Trowa. "You're a fantastic lay, Tro."

"I know. You too." Trowa winked at Duo, somewhat uncomfortably aware that his face was fully exposed.

Duo laughed, a breathy sound that seemed to come from Duo's belly. "Thanks."

Trowa tossed the cloth into the bathroom, listening to it land on the tiled floor with a flop. He brushed the hair around Duo's face back. Duo leaned into Trowa's touches like a cat encouraging petting.

Smiling, Trowa tapped Duo's nose. "Get under the covers."

Duo blinked as Trowa pulled the sheets back. "You're... you're staying?"

Trowa didn't bother thinking about it. "Of course. Unless you are kicking me out."

Duo shook his head, shifting up as Trowa pulled the covers out from under him. "No, no, that's not... I'm sorry, it's just..."

Trowa smiled, slipping into bed next to Duo. "Does the light bother you?"

Duo blinked. "No."

Trowa nodded, and then pulled the covers around them. Duo squirmed under the covers, unable to settle. Trowa sighed, putting his hands behind his head. "Duo."

Duo seemed to blush a little, and he hid his face behind his shoulder. "Sorry. I've... I've never done this before. I mean, I've... well, obviously. But, I've never slept with anyone before."

Trowa nodded. He couldn't say that he was surprised that Heero never stayed the night, but he couldn't say he wasn't disappointed either.

"I guess I'm not sure what to do." Duo smiled to cover his embarrassment, which made Trowa brush his fingers over Duo's mouth to stop the expression.

"Just settle down." Trowa's arm was still extended, his hand touching Duo's face.

Duo nodded, his face neutral. He leaned down, and settled himself next to Trowa, before inching closer. "Is this... is this ok?"

Trowa nodded.

Duo grinned, and then draped himself over Trowa, his leg hooking between Trowa's legs. "How about this?"

Trowa put his arms around Duo, and put his chin on top of Duo's chin.

Duo sighed, and his limbs stilled on Trowa's body. "Actually... I have slept with someone before... but it was a long, long time ago..."

Trowa brushed his fingers over the back of Duo's neck to indicate his interest.

"When I was a kid, actually." Duo didn't sound like he was talking to Trowa. He sounded like he was voicing a memory he hadn't thought about in ages. "I used to sleep with Solo."

There was more affection in Duo's voice when he said that name than Trowa ever remembered hearing from Duo before. Trowa nodded, rubbing his chin over Duo's head, hoping that Duo would continue as his eyes blinked sleepily.

"My very first memory is of Solo saving me." Duo's voice was faraway, and Duo's hand traced patterns in Trowa's skin randomly. "I don't remember my family, if I ever had one, at all. I remember running away from something, something huge, I don't remember what, and I was trapped in a corner, an alley. I thought I was a goner.

"Then Solo showed up. He grabbed me, and carried me away.

"That night, I slept in Solo's arms. He promised that he would take care of me."

Duo sighed, rubbing his cheek against Trowa's chest a little, and Trowa ran his hand down Duo's braid.

"I didn't even have a name then. Solo called me Kid. The other kids in his gang made fun of me, since I was so small and had such long hair. But Solo just pointed out that I was the fastest kid in the gang, and when they pulled my hair and called me a girl, he would push them away, and put his hands in my hair, and say I was beautiful."

Duo's voice was small and colored with emotion. Trowa felt a small twinge of envy. He would have liked to have known Duo and Solo when he was child.

"I loved Solo." Duo spoke matter-of-factly, but there was still a great deal of feeling in the words. "He and I were inseparable; at night, we would bunk together, and he would put his arms around me. I would go to sleep with my nose pressed against Solo's chest. Just the smell of him was enough to make me feel safe. I thought that we would always be together. I mean, we were just kids, so it was all completely innocent, but I thought that we would grow up together and be together forever. I even asked Solo once if we were gonna get married when we got bigger, and he would just tousle my hair and say that we would."

Trowa's eyes were opened, and fixed on the dim light spread over the carpet of Duo's bedroom. Duo's wistful tones trailed off, and Trowa knew that Duo was thinking about the end of the story. He wasn't sure if he should say something or not. It was the quiet that decided it for Trowa; it seemed to weigh on him.

"What happened?"

Duo shrugged. "There was a plague. Solo was the first in the gang to catch it, but he didn't tell anyone. When the younger kids started coughin' and shit, we started to look into it. There was a cure, but the military wasn't going to waste time on givin' it out to the poor scum on the streets. They figured we were all rebels anyway, so it was just an easier way to get rid of us.

"I stole some of the treatments, and some needles and junk, but when I got back, Solo made me give it to the younger kids first. There was only a little left when everyone but him and me were treated. He made me take some first, just in case I was infected. There wasn't much left for him, but... but it didn't matter.

"He was already dying."

The room was quiet. Trowa could feel Duo's heart beating against his chest. It was comforting. He traced the pattern of the scab from Duo's tattoo absently.

"I held him while he died. He kept his hand in my hair the whole time. He... he kept whispering, reminding me not to let the guys hassle me about my hair... he kept sayin'... that I was beautiful. He told me he loved me. When he died, I promised him that I would carry him with me everywhere. If he was Solo, then I would be Duo from then on." Duo pressed himself closer to Trowa, sighing. "For the longest time, I felt like I had been gutted. I promised him that he would live in me, but I felt like I had died with him." Trowa nodded, moving his hand over Duo's back slowly. He didn't want to speak, but he felt like the silence was bearing down on him again. "That's why you keep your hair long. Have you ever cut it?"

Duo smiled against Trowa's skin. "Only to keep the ends neat."

Trowa nodded, kissing the top of Duo's head too lightly for Duo to feel it.

"I've never told anyone that. I mean, I think I told Sister Helen, but not since then..." Duo seemed surprised that he was still talking, but Trowa just held Duo tighter. Duo sighed into Trowa's shoulder. "You're a bad influence on me, you know."


"Yeah. You treat me too well. Might give me a big head." Duo yawned, and Trowa imagined that his eyes were closed.

Trowa grinned, and bumped his leg up once. "I like your big head."

Duo laughed softly, his voice getting progressively quieter and quieter until his breathing evened out, and Trowa felt like Duo was asleep.

Throughout the night, Trowa would close his eyes, and drift off, but the presence of Duo on him would alternately startle and soothe him, until eventually exhaustion set in, and Trowa fell asleep.

Trowa woke up alone in Duo's bed, but he could hear Duo in the kitchen, so it didn't bother him.

He stayed in bed for a few moments after he woke up, blinking sleepily as he stared at the sunlight on the floor. When he finally got up, he moved slowly, stretching out every part of him in order until he was wiggling his toes. He felt loose and comfortable, his whole body pleasantly sore.

He slipped his boxers on, and walked slowly out to the kitchen to greet Duo.

Duo was his lover now. Trowa grinned softly, brushing his hair down over his face as he walked.

Duo was at the stove, making eggs. He was wearing Trowa's button down shirt from the night before, and nothing else. His braid was still messy and loose, hanging down his back.

Trowa grinned. "Morning."

Duo turned to grin at Trowa a bit manically. "Heya. Making eggs. How do you like them?"

Trowa shrugged. He didn't like eggs much, but he ate them anyway when they were what was being offered.

Duo turned back to the eggs. "I'm scrambling them, but I guess it's more like an omelet cuz I stuck a bunch of other stuff in 'em too, like cheese and ham and junk. How are you this morning? Sore? I hope you are ok. I didn't ask you last night, and I should have. Sorry. Do you like pepper in your eggs?"

Trowa sat down at the table behind Duo, smiling. "I'm fine. Great, actually."

Duo snuck a peak at Trowa quickly. "Great. Well, great. Ok. I mean, I figured you woulda spoken up if something was wrong last night, but it's nice to ask, anyway. I mean, I think it is."

"Thanks." Trowa watched Duo's hands move, holding the pan with one as the other used a fork to mix the eggs.

Duo nodded. "Ok. Well, I've never done that before, so..."

Trowa frowned. "You've never topped?"

Duo chuckled nervously. "Well, you know, Heero's not likely to spread his legs for me..." Duo trailed off, somewhat despondently.

Trowa stood up. "No one else?"

Duo just shrugged and shook his head at the same time.

Trowa nodded, and then put his arms around Duo's waist, placing his chin on Duo's shoulder. Duo started in Trowa's arms, but he just held Duo tighter. He kissed the place just below Duo's ear softly. "Thank you."

Duo shuddered in Trowa's arms, turning a little and opening his arms as if to make a denial, but Trowa kissed Duo's cheek.

"I know what it meant to you. I appreciate your trust in me."

Duo nodded, putting his hand over Trowa's arm. He turned a little in Trowa's arms, smiling up at Trowa, his eyes bright and clear.

Trowa leaned in a little, and they kissed, their lips and tongues touching, tasting, slowly and leisurely.

"My, my, what a cute scene." Heero's nasal sarcasm failed to separate them, but Duo nearly jumped in Trowa's arms, breaking their kiss. "Almost a shame to break it up." Heero's eyes were piercing, accusing Trowa menacingly.

Trowa smirked, and took the pan of eggs off the burner. "Heero."

Heero sneered, aiming his glare at Duo. "I guess you were too busy whoring yourself to meet up with Relena last night. She was very disappointed. This was her only chance to see you in months, but I guess being a slut is a demanding profession. Did you forget that you promised to help me fix my speeder today, or did you have a few more johns to fit in before then?"

Duo swallowed hard, his eyes blazing. "Jesus fucking Christ, Heero, you get tired of hitting that same note over and over again?"

Trowa smirked, and took Duo's hand. He lead Duo past Heero, to the bedroom.

Trowa got dressed quickly, not bothering to wash up. Duo rushed around, obviously a little flustered and desperate not to let on. He chatted aimlessly, grumbling about Heero, and talking about his laundry.

Trowa stopped him to get his shirt back, and Duo flushed.

"Damn it, Trowa, I'm sorry about that... I forgot that Heero... Damn, this is awkward." Duo bit his lip and looked down.

Trowa realized belatedly that Duo was having trouble meeting his eye. Trowa shook his head, though he didn't know what he was denying. He kissed Duo's forehead between his eyes quickly. "Duo. I'm not asking you to choose."

Duo looked up, his eyes wild and attempting a denial his throat would not form.

Trowa smiled. "It's ok. I just want to be with you. I knew all about Heero before last night, remember."

Duo bit his lip harder, and for a minute, he looked like he was going to draw blood. "I'm sorry, Trowa. I... I wish I could say that I was going to..."

Trowa shook his head, took Duo's face in both his hands, and kissed him goodbye slowly. When their lips separated, Trowa brushed his thumb over Duo's bottom lip.

"Call me." It was neither a request nor an order. Trowa left Duo standing in the middle of his bedroom looking lost.

He walked past Heero quickly, not giving Heero time to bait him, ignoring the glare aimed at his back. He got out to the street, and set off to walk home, the activity aggravating the slight soreness in his ass, making him smile.

Duo was his lover now. He looked forward to being inside of Duo.

notesPart OnePart TwoPart Three • Part Four • Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart FourteenEpilogue