A/N: this was much harder than it ought to have been. It is also a bit shorter than it probably ought to be. But there you are.

Trying Hard

Chapter Seven:get a rise out of me

"So?" Joe asked over beer at the Highpocket. .

"So what?" Denny replied.

"So how did it go?" Joe could only mean the appointments Denny had kept with increasing dread and resentment.

Denny tensed up. "Can we not talk about that here?"

"I wasn't asking you to go into a lot of intimate detail, dude. Just. you know, good, bad, hard to say, whatever."

"Bad. Satisfied?"

"No! I mean, I don't want it to be bad for you. Sorry. Why?"

"Why what? Not here, anyway."

"Okay," Joe said, standing up. "Let's go home. Your place? It's closer."

By now this had been going on for close to three months, and in the abstract, Denny was resigned to these conversations, but he still dragged his feet at the beginning of every conversation. "Stop pouting," Joe said, as they walked out of the Highpocket on to the street.

"I'm not pouting," Denny said, but he wasn't really sure that he wasn't.

Joe made them stop for burritos to take home. "I'm not going to sit around while you pretend it takes three hours to make dinner and then have you say you're too tired to talk."

"I don't do that."

Joe just shot him a look. "You want lengua or super vegetarian?" he asked.

"Tripas," Denny said.

"Don't be difficult. They never have tripe here, and I don't think you even like it."

"Okay, asada."

"Grilled beef it is," Joe said.

Once they got home, Denny settled in to enjoy his burrito in peace. Only Joe didn't let him eat in peace. "Tell me how come it's going bad," he said, when Denny had only taken a couple of bites.

"I wouldn't saying's going bad so much as it's been at bad all along and it's still there," Denny said after some consideration. "I mean, not that there isn't new shit, but that the shit isn't worse than the old shit, it's just new shit and I'd rather not bitch about it if it's okay with you, I hate sounding like a whiny puke all the time."

"You don't have to sound like a whiny puke."

"Great. We can talk about other stuff, then. Hey, did you see they found like forty-three new exoplanets? That's pretty awesome."

"Yeah, and what's also awesome is your mad subject-changing skills."

"Yeah," Denny grinned, and then, "crap! What are you doing?" Joe was suddenly on top of him: and he was lying back on the couch where he had been sitting straight up a second ago.

Joe said, "You're not the only one with mad subject-changing skills," and lifted himself up while maneuvering a leg so Denny couldn't follow. "Now I'm going to change the subject back. Do you need a new shrink? You said you had a hard time with the ones you had when you were a kid."

"No, the shrink isn't so bad. For a shrink. But the - " air quotes, now - "work we are doing is beyond hideous. He keeps giving me these ridiculous assignments. And never being satisfied with what I bring in."

"Sounds like you don't like your shrink. Or else you're just an avoidant fucker."

"No, really, he's okay to talk to and he sometimes has good ideas. But he's like you: he gets an idea and he won't let go, even if he's wrong."

Joe got a glint in his eye. "What's he wrong about?"

"Uh-uh. Not going there. Client confidentiality, don't you know."

Joe got a downcast look, but Denny wasn't going to give in. "You know what would be good?" Denny said. "Television."

#####

Another week. Denny stalked into Joe's apartment with a sheaf of papers. "Did I tell you my shrink is just like you?" he asked.

"Yeah?"

"He's been after me to go to surrogate therapy."

"What? Wait, no. I can do whatever a surrogate's supposed to do. Can't I?"

"According to him, not really."

"So. . . you're going to do with some stranger what you won't do with me."

"No."

"No?"

Denny looked at the sheaf of papers in his hand. "Instead, you're going to read this shit and we're going to do this shit until you get sick of this shit and call it quits. Okay? But we got to do that shit or . . ."

"Or what?"

"Or I got to go through the shit of finding a new fucking therapist. Like it wasn't shit enough getting the first one."

"Now you're talking. But I won't get sick of it."

"Because you're a fucking sadist."

"Names will never hurt me."

It was days before either of them mentioned the sheaf of papers again: days in which they sort of floated along as if they'd never started this in the first place. Denny was a little anxious about it, but mostly he was glad for the respite. The weather was good and Joe got the yen to do a bit of walking in the big park down in the Outer Salsipuedes. Denny was down with that, and the whole time was pretty uneventful. They got into a discussion about the state governor - Denny was sure the man was evil, but Joe thought he was just stupid, and their consensus was that it almost didn't matter either way, the results were pretty horrible. Then another day Denny got a notion that he wanted to eat liver dumplings because he thought he might have liked them when he ate them once when he was twelve and they chewed up a couple of after-work times trying to find a restaurant that had them, and failing that, deciding whether it was worth the risk to try to make them and see if they were any good. The upshot of that one was that decided to try that some other time as neither one of them was really up for an uncertified fling with organ meats that week.

Finally Denny couldn't take it anymore. "You read that shit or what?" he asked abruptly.

"Yeah," Joe said.

"Yeah, what?" Denny snapped. It wasn't like Joe to get into a thing and then do nothing about it. "We going to do that shit or not?"

"Seems to me we were already doing it," Joe said. "I was just wondering where on the list you think we got to or whether you think we ought to start at the top like we didn't do anything already."

"Probably the start," Denny said, wincing. "Though we could probably go through it kind of quicker."

"Okay, gonna have blue balls before this is over, but whatever, let's get to it," Joe said.

####

It wasn't that bad, really, Denny thought, after a couple of days of it. There was a crucial difference to what they were doing now compared to what they were doing before. It wasn't Joe floundering around making up stuff for Denny to do, and Denny resisting: there was a list, they kept to the list, except when it got too ridiculous and they started joking around. "Okay, now I am going to put my left big toe on your right inner ankle," Denny said. "What are your thoughts?"

After they recovered from the paroxysms that caused, they soldiered on until they somehow discovered that Joe was ticklish at the back of his knees. " This is excellent. I need all the weapons I can get. How did I not know that before?" Denny asked.

"Because you've been too lazy, and afraid to get any kind of rise out of me, coward," Joe said.

"Fuck you," Denny said. He got up and walked to the door, feeling ridiculous the way he was bobbing around in front of himself.

"Wait up," Joe said.

"I got to piss," Denny said.

"No, you don't have to piss, you are pissed. Come on back."

"I'm going to piss, and I'm not going to piss on you," Denny said.

Denny came back in the room and put his clothes on.

"What the hell, Denny?" Joe said. "One remark and you're ready to quit. You've got to try harder than that."

"I'm not quitting, I'm calling it a night. I'm not doing it when it's not fun anymore, and when you needle me, it's not fun."

"Wait? Fun? You never said this was fun. You act like it's some kind of torture you got to go through and you don't know whether the payoff is worth it."

Denny rolled his eyes. "You're so out of date it isn't funny. You didn't notice we've been having fun all this week? Until now. And for the record, it's never been I thought the payoff wasn't worth it, because, asshole, the payoff would be you, fuckwad, but it's never been clear to me there was a real chance for the payoff in the first place, and when you say shit like that when I'm doing everything I can it sort of indicates there isn't and -"

"You could cut off that run-on sentence about there," Joe said. "I get the point. I shouldn't hassle you so much. I was out of line, especially with the thing about trying harder. So you want to start over?"

"Tomorrow," Denny said. "Right now, I want to see what's on TV."

####

Denny thought about the thing that Joe said - too afraid to get a rise out of me - all day at work the next day. Was it always true? What about when they were just joking around and not trying to fix Denny? It was usually Joe setting the pace. Even when it had been Denny's "turn" in this weird shuffle they were doing, it had been Joe's idea. He'd told himself he was reconciled to the likelihood of losing Joe over this, but didn't he really mean he was afraid to see what would happen if he grasped it with both hands? Because what if he had really put himself out there, and Joe got a glimpse of everything Denny was? Wouldn't that be worse than Joe walking out because he didn't? If Joe said "This is too weird, and too stupid, and too disgusting altogether, for me," instead of "you don't try hard enough"?

Maybe it wasn't worse.

But still, that sort of left the question unanswered of what Denny would be doing if he wasn't doing what he was doing now. Probably not trying to tamp things down. Probably not waiting for Joe to ask questions or make suggestions so he could shut him down. But what would it be?

He needed some time to figure that out.

Actually the shrink wasn't such a bad sounding board now that he had a particular thought process of his own to explore. And the meetings with the shrink were more interesting now. He wasn't ready to share this with Joe just yet, so they were still going through the steps in the leaflet for now. They had just about gotten to the level they were at before they started using the directions. That meant that Denny was letting Joe touch his cock "with intent," though he wasn't actually hoping for any actual issue at this point. Finally, after another couple sessions of talking things over with the shrink, Denny was ready to make some actual plans.

Joe wasn't oblivious, and had several times asked Denny what was up, but Denny didn't give him any answer, even when Joe needled him. Denny just smirked and diverted his attention by putting Joe's hand somewhere Joe wouldn't have expected Denny to allow, let alone demand: or by teasing Joe in some other more direct manner. He took an afternoon off to go shopping, he spent another afternoon thoroughly cleaning his bedroom, and some other blocks of time reviewing what he had in mind.

Finally, he was ready for his great effort. Whatever actually happened after this, Joe would not be able to say Denny wasn't trying hard enough.

-###-