see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimers
Sleeps + Chapter 11
A Sure Thing
The bartender smiles at the
two young men pacing the perimeter of the old pool table. He's not exactly
on a first-name-basis with them yet, but considering the fact that they've
visited his little bar three times in the last ten days, he's officially
begun to think of them as "regulars."
"You know, we should place bets on these games, Tro."
The slightly taller young man lines up a shot as he replies mildly, "Why's
The braided youth leans on his pool cue and his grin is border-line feral.
"To make it more interesting, of course."
"So playing against me isn't interesting enough for you, is it?"
His friend snorts and allows his gaze to roam over the lean figure. In
a voice that doesn't carry past the two of them, he concedes, "Well, the
word 'interesting' doesn't do justice to the view I'm enjoying right now..."
Trowa pauses as he pulls back his cue. He directs his attention over his
shoulder, meeting the mischievous twinkle in Duo's eyes. Very deliberately,
Trowa allows his own gaze to glide down Duo's slim form and then back
up again. "Absolutely," he agrees.
Trowa turns back to the game with a slight smirk. With a snap of his arm,
he sends his intended target into the intended pocket. "What do you want
"I'm not sure," Duo admits. "I was kind of hoping you'd have an idea or
Formulating his next move, Trowa says, "There's always laundry duty."
"Nah. Too boring."
"We switch off on that anyway."
Trowa hesitates to lean over the table again as the perfect wager comes
to mind. He looks Duo in the eye and says, "A hot shower."
Duo blinks. Mouth on autopilot, he replies, "Alone?"
Trowa stares at him for a minute.
Then, as his mind oh so considerately replays what he'd just said aloud,
Duo's face begins to perform a slow burn.
Trowa's mouth stretches into a wide---and previously undisclosed---grin before
he leans back against the table and laughs. For several heartbeats, Duo
just watches Trowa's mirth. He's never seen the other man laugh before.
The sight and sound of it does something to his pulse and a peculiar warmth
starts deep in his stomach and spreads outward in a quick flush.
Eventually, Duo feels an answering chuckle pour out of him. "Er, sorry,
Tro. That kinda... um..." He wonders if he should use the phase "Freudian
Slip" to explain his outburst or if it'll only dig him deeper into the
Trowa ignores Duo's embarrassment. "The loser arranges for the winner
to have a hot shower and a night in a real bed," Trowa says, still smiling.
Duo's brows arc at the expensive stakes. He says, "Does the loser get
to use said shower and sleep in a real bed, too?"
"At the winner's discretion."
Duo mulls this over but is unable to find a down side to this wager. Slowly,
he nods. "Okay..."
Trowa leans over the table and sends the eight ball into the pocket nearest
Duo. With the game over, Trowa deposits the correct change into the table
to release the balls and begins to rack them. Duo digs into his jeans
pocket and pulls out a coin.
"Flip for who breaks?" Duo asks. Trowa looks up from arranging the multicolored
billiard balls and nods. "You call it," Duo tells him. "Ready?"
Trowa nods again.
Duo thumbs the coin into the air.
Sweeping his hand through the air, Duo collects the coin and slaps it
on the back of his wrist. Without looking at it, he sticks his hand under
the hanging lamp hovering above the table. Trowa's gaze flicks down. He
Duo grins amicably, "Your move, Tro. Who goes first?"
Trowa studies Duo's face for a moment before deciding, "You do."
Trowa removes the guide and slides it into its slot at the side of the
table. He holds out a hand in a silent request for the chalk cube, which
Duo tosses and Trowa catches with ease.
He had briefly considered setting up the game so he'd have the greatest
chance of losing, so that Trowa would owe Duo a hot shower and a real
bed for a night. But something had stopped him. Trowa has the suspicion
that Duo feels... obligated for relying so heavily on Trowa these last
two plus weeks. And Trowa suspects that if he were to lose, Duo would
feel even more indebted. So, at the last possible moment, Trowa had decided
to win. Had decided to let Duo do him this favor. And, as the game of
pool generally goes, the person who plays first only sinks two or three
shots before running out of moves. When Duo misses and allows Trowa to
take his turn, Trowa intends to sink every one of his shots. He'll not
be playing down his game tonight.
Trowa chalks up his cue and leans over the table. The crack of the break
echoes in the pub. He sees Duo lift a single brow in appreciation. It's
a good break. A very good break. Backing off from the table, Trowa watches
Duo set up his first shot. It's a tough one. In fact, there are several
easier marks on the table, but---seeing Duo's smirk---Trowa understands that
Duo is trying to one- up him.
Duo executes. The target ball slams into the side pocket. Trowa muses,
So I'm not the only one who hasn't been competing in earnest...
Duo works his way around the table, completing four shots easily. "You
realize you're goin' down, don't you?" he asks flippantly as he lines
up a fifth.
"In your wildest dreams, Maxwell."
Duo laughs. "Shit, man. That sounded just like Wufei."
"Wufei's name and the word 'shit' in the same breath? You better hope
I don't say anything to him about that."
"You'd let Wufei beat me up? Or worse? Give me The Look? What kind of
friend are you?"
"A sadistic one."
"If we're not too busy tomorrow evening, let's go find some puppies to
Duo snorts... then snickers... then chuckles... and finally laughs. "Tro---man---you
have---a---wicked sick---sense of---humor."
"So I'm discovering."
Finally, Duo gets control of himself once more and puts away that fifth
shot. Shaking his head, still smiling, Duo circles the table. Then, inexplicably,
he pauses and seeks Trowa's gaze. _Expression a mix of curiosity and sobriety,
Duo asks, "What do you mean you're 'discovering'?" Duo offers a playful
grin. "Didn't you already know you were such a sick and twisted individual?"
"Not before I started hanging out with you," Trowa confesses, amused but
Duo looks away, suddenly uncomfortable. "Um, that's... weird."
Still completely relaxed, Trowa says, "Not really."
Duo's gaze settles very briefly in Trowa's direction while he prepares
for his sixth shot. "Why not?"
Trowa doesn't reply and his silence unnerves Duo enough that he screws
up the shot completely missing the hole. With a somewhat frustrated sigh,
he retreats from the table.
Trowa chalks his cue, surveys the game's landscape, and begins to play.
During the entire time, he can feel Duo's gaze following his every move.
It's unsettling and Trowa has to make an effort to regulate his respiration
and channel his attention. After nearly five seemingly infinite minutes
of tense silence, Trowa says, "You know, Duo, I could miss this shot and
let you win..."
That gets the expected reaction. "The hell you will."
Tension between them broken, they settle back into conversation once more.
"You loose on purpose and I'll kick your ass, Trowa Barton."
"You and what army?"
"Pretty cocky for a guy who's never been on a date, aren't you?"
"Are you calling my masculinity into question?"
"No, just your imagination and charm."
"And this is the part where you'll give me all the advice I'll ever need
for three easy payments of ninety-nine ninety-five?"
"I accept all major credit cards."
"But no personal checks."
"Do I look like I was born yesterday?"
"You look like you're about one shot away from finding me that hot shower."
"Yeah, well, there's worse fates. Can't think of any at the moment, but
I'm sure they're out there."
Trowa steps away from the table. He only has the eight ball left and it's
an almost obscenely clear shot. He looks up at Duo and says quietly, "It's
not too late to call the bet off."
The left half of Duo's mouth curves into a grin. "Don't you dare."
"All right." He leans over the table, shoots, and the eight ball disappears
"I can't believe you told them my cooking was only a step up from primordial
Trowa glances at Duo as they depart the building site. "Actually, I said,
'On the evolutionary food scale, it ranked almost as high as primordial
Duo snickers. "Dude, of all the words I never thought I'd hear you say..."
He shakes his head. "Ooze. Heh."
Trowa takes careful note of the fact that Duo isn't the least bit perturbed
by Trowa mocking his culinary prowess. But then, when Trowa had said that,
he'd almost smiled at Duo, remembering all of the effort Duo had gone
to that evening but in vain. He doesn't think anyone else had noticed
the affection in his eyes. Just Duo.
"Only you could burn Spaghetti-O's," Trowa says, both amused and awed.
"Yeah, it takes real talent to be me."
The soft, wistful _expression on Duo's face is a surprise and Trowa has
to shove his hands in his jeans pockets. There's something... different
about Duo lately. In fact, the delighted yet somewhat predatory aura Trowa's
caught occasional glimpses of had started shortly after Duo had lost their
hot-shower-and-a-real-bed wager. Realizing this, Trowa feels his muscles
tighten with suspicion. He recalls the way he and Duo had flirted with
each other that night at the pub. Recalls Duo's innocent slip up about
"Tro? You okay, man?"
He comes back to the here and now, turning sharply to meet Duo's eyes.
"You looked like you were off on Earth somewhere."
Trowa answers Duo's shy smile with a shake of his head. "Not on Earth,"
he assures him, easily answering Duo's implied question; Trowa had not
been missing his old life. No, he'd been wondering about this one.
They traverse the remainder of the block in silence. As they cross the
street, Duo sighs softly and slowly. "I was thinking..."
Trowa looks up at Duo's hesitation, catching the flicker of pain as it
tightens his _expression. "About what?"
Duo bites his lip then confesses, "The 'what ifs.'" His glances at Trowa
with an apologetic _expression. "Sorry, Tro. Didn't mean to ruin the end
of our day with that."
Trowa ignores that. "What if... what?" he inquires gently, sensing Duo
needs to talk about this.
Hunching further under his jacket, Duo steps onto the sidewalk and replies,
"What if I'd hesitated? I mean, when that Alliance officer insulted me
and I turned around to glare at him, I saw... I felt... something, Trowa.
And it scared me. I don't know if I was just seeing his surprise or if
I was remembering... I didn't want to know. I just ran." Duo shuffles
to a halt and clenches his fists. "Things could have ended differently,
Trowa. So very differently."
Trowa hovers closer, offering his presence, unsure if Duo would accept
his arms around him out here, in the open street.
Duo hauls in a deep breath and looks up, eyes glistening and very wet.
"All he wanted was one more chance, Tro."
Ah to hell with it... Trowa pulls his right hand from his pocket
and curls his arm around Duo's shoulders. And as Duo rests his forehead
against Trowa's neck, he guesses that he made the right decision in reaching
"And that's maybe not even the worst part," Duo continues, voice muffled.
"I'd accepted the fact that I was alone, that I had to take care of myself,
that nobody wanted me, and I was going to prove it to the whole world
that I was somebody. I was going to make them see what a mistake
they'd made in getting rid of me." A shuddering breath leaves Duo's body.
"The rage kept me going, kept me strong, kept me rolling out of bed in
the morning and running faster and laughing louder. And now... now it's
just... gone." One of Duo's hands curls around Trowa's shoulder from behind
and his grip is almost painfully tight. "I was wanted. I was."
Trowa's eyes squeeze shut for a moment, hearing the delicate meaning in
Duo's carefully chosen words. "Was." Not "is."
"And I looked back at that base, the detonator in my hand, my thumb on
the switch and I remembered that soldier's eyes when he'd looked at me.
I just stood there thinking about that. And then I got angry. Angry with
the Alliance for all the pain they'd caused. Angry with myself for hesitating."
Duo's other hand grasps the front of Trowa's shirt. "I pressed the switch,
Trowa. And then I just tossed it aside and walked away."
Trowa pictures the moment easily. Imagines a younger Duo dressed all in
black, eyes shaded beneath the brim of his hat, contemplating the remote
in his hands, contemplating the act he is about to commit. Hesitating
as a possibility too painful presents itself to him: forget about revenge
and investigate the look in Kurt Franklin's eyes. And he watches as Duo's
_expression hardens with anger and frustration. He's lived for this moment
for four years. He reminds himself of everything the Alliance has taken.
And he gets angry enough to press the detonator.
The world explodes around him, but he remains framed in the entrance to
a dark, familiar alley. He watches, the flames and smoke reflecting in
his eyes. And then, something inside of him... perhaps it's hope... dies.
Trowa's imagination shows him the silent, slim, dark figure as it turns
and disappears into the shadows.
"I became Shinigami that night," Duo tells him. "I mean, I'd suspected
everything and everyone I loved would be taken from me, that fate hated
me, that I was cursed. But that night, I stopped letting the world
take from me, and started taking from it. Took all the souls I thought
I'd need to fix me."
In a defeated whisper, Duo concludes, "But it didn't fix me. None
of it did. Just made everything hurt worse."
Trowa feels himself caught between murmuring meaningless reassurances
and confessing his overwhelming feelings of ineptitude. He's just glad
the street is empty this cold, Thursday evening. He wishes Duo had waited
until they'd gotten back to the house to confess this, but knows Duo's
disregard for their current location illustrates the depth and intensity
of his grief.
Some time ago, Trowa's other arm had settled around Duo as well. Now he
strokes his hand slowly over Duo's hair and fumbles for something---for
the right thing---to offer him.
With a deep breath, Duo leans away just enough to look into Trowa's eyes.
There's a searching moment when Trowa feels the almost palpable probing
of Duo's gaze. And then his breathing stills. Tuned to the motions and
mannerisms of Duo's body, Trowa finds himself holding his breath as well.
And then Duo leans forward.
The brush of Duo's lips at the corner of his mouth is electric. Trowa's
body jerks and he retreats from the touch. Retreats, but doesn't loosen
his hold on Duo.
Very softly, he asks, "Why did you do that?"
"Uh..." The air floods back into Duo's lungs. He looks everywhere except
Trowa's green eyes. His body tenses. He tries to run, to hide. Trowa doesn't
let him. "Um, well, I guess I was just thinking that, um... look, I know
hanging out with me hasn't exactly been a thrill-a-minute lately and I've
really been bringing you down with all of my issues and I just thought---"
Trowa's brain engages and politely fills him in on why Duo is reacting
this way. Trowa says, "Yes, Duo."
Duo swallows, blinking. His voice almost cracks as he whispers back, "Yes...
The hand against Duo's hair shifts until the backs of Trowa's fingers
are sliding reverently over Duo's temple and down to his cheekbone. "Yes,"
he murmurs, "I want you." And the tone of his voice coveys the meaning
of that statement perfectly; it has nothing to do with lust and everything
to do with the ache in Trowa's heart.
A soundless gasp rushes between Duo's lips. He blinks again as his eyes
burn and shimmer with tears. Drawn in by Duo's sudden inhalation, Trowa
closes the distance between their mouths slowly. So slowly, Duo could
easily withdraw... or savor the anticipation.
Trowa's lips settle against Duo's in a warm caress. He gently cradles
Duo's upper lip and then his lower, brushes his mouth over the tender
skin a second time. His eyelids are heavy, but Trowa forces them to stay
The anxiety and tension leaves him and an air of contentment and peace
radiates from Duo's body. His dark eyes nearly close as well, still glittering
with tears Trowa knows he won't shed.
The kiss is lingering and gentle and Trowa offers up what he can to heal
Duo's shattered soul. And then the kiss changes subtly. It becomes less
about healing Duo and more about healing each other.
Duo's lips move infinitesimally, returning the caresses on a breath, "Trowa..."
"Yes," he breathes back. "I want you."
In his shirt, Duo's fingers tighten in response. He presses himself against
Trowa's lips linger and he drinks in this moment. He hesitates to let
go, feeling like any movement away from Duo will fragment his control
and rip open wide his chest, pouring these almost painful emotions into
the street. And if the way Duo returns his hold is any indication, he
feels the same as well.
[chap. 10] [chap. 12] [back to The Manwell's fic]