Author: The Manwell
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimers

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 12
Surprises

"We... I..." Cathy takes a fortifying breath and begins anew. "How are you Trowa?"

Noting her struggle with words, Trowa responds carefully, "I'm fine." He pauses a moment, examining her image in the vid screen. "Are you sleeping?"

She forces a smile ands shrugs. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine. I just picked up a book and couldn't put it down last night."

"Hm," he replies to her casual lie.

"How's Duo?" she returns quickly, eager to redirect the conversation.

"All right," Trowa responds honestly. There's been a noticeable change in Duo's demeanor since that moment on the street two days ago. He's calmed, settled, and started to smile at his own inner musings again. Trowa has missed those silent, mysterious grins.

"I'm glad," Cathy tells him genuinely. "There's not much new happening here. The manager's still grumping about how you're never going to have enough time to learn the new routines, the lions are moping, and the mechanics are threatening to quit now that you aren't there to give them a hand. You know, the usual." [17]

The corner of Trowa's mouth twitches. "Yeah," he agrees.

"Well, I'd better go. Thanks for calling, Trowa. It was nice to hear from you."

"Sure," he says. "Bye, Cathy."

The screen goes blank but not before he sees the sheen of tears in her eyes. He remains standing there in the vidphone booth, wondering what could bring the strong, opinionated, independent Catherine Bloom to near tears. The last time he'd seen her cry had been years ago when he'd tried to kill himself. [18]

Trowa leans back against the wall and crosses his arms over the ache in his chest. He feels torn. He left her to find Duo because he believed he had been needed. And he had been. But what had he left behind? Cathy had taken his decision to leave with difficulty. Only now does he really being to wonder why.

Perhaps he never should have left.

But no. As soon as that thought crosses his mind, he knows he doesn't regret setting on his quest to find Duo. Knows he wouldn't have made that decision any differently. He's glad he'd come to this colony. Not only had he found Duo, but he'd found a friend, someone who challenges him, who effortlessly halves his pain, who makes him smile more than is his habit. And he believes he's had a similar effect on Duo in return.

His lips part as he draws in his next breath. The soft friction of the air reminds him of that kiss on the street. Even now, the power of that moment makes him close his eyes. In all of his life he'd never felt that sense of homecoming, of comfort, of acceptance. He wonders how a moment that had begun for the purpose of reassuring Duo has managed to have such a profound effect on him as well.

Trowa's throat aches with the certain knowledge that he'd liked kissing Duo. He'd liked holding onto him and being held onto in return. It had been a shock to realize he'd like to lean on Duo indefinitely. And immediately following that thought, he experiences another: he wonders if it would be possible to stay with Duo, to turn this brief sojourn into something more...

The soft sound of someone tapping on the booth's door tugs Trowa from his moment of introspection. Somewhat reluctantly, he straightens away from the wall and takes a slow breath in preparation for vacating the cubby he's spent the last half-hour within. He opens the door and shifts to slide past the next person in line for the phone but a pair of dark eyes and a mischievous grin stop him.

"Duo," he says, startled that Duo has followed him here.

"Heya, Tro" is the reply. With an easy grin, Duo holds out a familiar duffle bag.

"What's this?" Trowa asks as he slowly accepts his own luggage.

Duo arcs a brow at him. "Your shit, dude." One side of Duo's mouth twitches upward, "Like hell I'm carrying it all the way across the colony. There wasn't anything in the bet about that."

Trowa settles the weight of the shoulder strap and a tightness releases around his heart. He'd completely forgotten about the bet. When he'd seen Duo standing there with his things he'd thought... something else.

"An oversight on my part," Trowa replies, trying to forget that moment of silent dismay.

"You all right, man? For a minute there you looked like your favorite critter had just died."

"I'm fine, Duo," he tells him with a snort.

"Hm," Duo says neutrally. "C'mon, man," he invites with a gesture. "Places to go and all that."

Trowa follows Duo out of the shopping center and asks, "Where would that be?"

Duo sends him a sidelong glance, telling him without words that he won't reveal his plans so willingly. "To take care of that bet" is all he says.

"That's not a destination," Trowa points out blandly as he matches Duo's stride.

Duo grins with considerable enthusiasm. "Oh, it will be. Trust me."

Noting the somewhat sadistic glee expressed in the young man's features, Trowa deadpans, "Unfortunately, I already do."

Duo laughs. "Said like a man about to face a firing squad. Shall I offer you a blindfold and a cigarette?"

"If you actually have those on you, I'd prefer not to know about it."

"Where's your sense of adventure, Tro?"

"With all those poisonous reptiles I'd be missing if I worked in a pet store."

"You know, there's a clinical name for people like you."

"Brilliant?"

"Bonkers."

"That's not a clinical name," Trowa tells him, feeling his mouth begin to stretch into a smile.

"Sure it is. My therapist calls me that all the time."

"You don't have a therapist."

"If I didn't have you, I would."

"That doesn't count," Trowa says in a voice that's thicker than usual.

"Sure it does."

"Then it's a good thing we keep separate scoreboards."

"Am I winning most of the time on yours, too?"

Trowa's mouth twitches. "Much to my dismay," he intones drolly.

"Yeah, you sound really broken up by it," Duo observes.

"I internalize."

Duo laughs. "Of that I have absolutely no doubt, man."

Trowa folds his hands into his pockets and concedes the battle of wits. He contents himself with walking in silence for a fair distance simply soaking up Duo's presence beside him. He doesn't bother to ask about their destination again, doesn't bother to try to remember what lies in the direction Duo is taking him. With an effort, Trowa puts aside his need for control and docilely trails along.

A considerable amount of time passes before Duo finally steps off of the sidewalk and approaches a residence. Trowa pauses at the edge of the path to take in their destination. The neo-Victorian home sprawls across the lush lawn. Vines strain up the archway that leads to the garden around the back. The hand-painted sign in front of the veranda reads: The Waterlot Inn and Restaurant. [19]

"Duo?"

With one foot on the first step, Duo pauses and turns back to the young man still hesitating at the gate. "Yes, Tro?"

Trowa looks away from those sparkling eyes and concentrates on the elegant architecture of the almost-mansion. He searches his mind for the words to express the thoughts he can barely register. He says, "You'd spring for this but you wouldn't carry my bag?"

Duo laughs. He hadn't expected that. "Hey, I've gotta prioritize."

"Hm."

Still, Trowa doesn't approach the inn. Duo is about to point out that no one ever got a hot shower while standing out on a sidewalk when Trowa speaks again.

Very softly, he says, "You can't afford this."

Duo's smile widens. "Already bought and paid for, Tro. You're not going to suggest we head over to one of those economy hotels, are you?" he asks with a single brow raised.

Trowa says nothing. Just turns to reabsorb the delicate landscaping, the softly glowing stained and leaded glass windows. Why would Duo spend the money for a place like this when there are many other adequate and less expensive places on the colony? Trowa glances at Duo again and notes the lingering presence of that soft, mysterious look in his eyes. And although Trowa's customary fašade of indifference remains firmly in place, he has the distinct impression that Duo is taking this moment to look past it. His fingers tighten around the straps of his duffle bag. His wrists tingle with the whisper of adrenalin. The muscles over his heart tense.

He quietly asks, "What other surprises do you have planned, Duo?"

Still smiling, Duo tells him, "Only good ones."

Trowa has no reply to that.

Then Duo gestures grandly to the front door. With a slight bow and smirk, he invites, "After you."

+

"I think I underestimated you," Trowa says into the mild evening provided by the colony's weather control geeks.

Walking up beside him, Duo grins. "Yeah, a lot of people have that same problem. I hear there's even a support group for it now."

He watches as Duo plugs in the hair dryer provided by the inn and snags his brush from the somewhat rumpled surface of the featherbed.

"Not only did you leave me some hot water, you even tested out the bed. You'd better be careful there, Tro. You're spoiling me."

"It's all part of my master plan," he assures Duo before turning back to the view of the colony at night.

"Oh? Today Duo Maxwell, tomorrow the world? That sort of thing?"

Trowa chuckles softly. "I'll be happy with just Duo Maxwell," he replies without thinking.

Duo pauses in the act of reaching for the power button on the blow dryer and glances over his shoulder at Trowa. Realizing what he'd just said, Trowa's fingers tighten their grip on the window molding. A moment passes before he can feel the radiance of Duo's smile against his back.

"Well, if that's the case," Duo returns, "I don't think you'll encounter much resistance."

Trowa blinks once as those words hit him. Behind him, the blow dryer clicks on and begins to hum. He transfers his gaze to the young man half dressed, seated on the edge of the over-priced bed he'd bought for the night and smiles.

For a moment, he watches Duo artfully wrestle with the brush and blow dryer before walking over to him and mutely holding out his hand.

"Resistance is futile," Trowa agrees, waiting for a response to his offer.

Duo, unable to miss the open palm held beneath his nose, reluctantly releases his hair brush to Trowa. The bed dips behind him as Trowa climbs up to join him. And then when the hand appears a second time, Duo relinquishes the dryer as well.

"Resistance may be futile," Duo grumbles over the rumbling of the dryer, "but if you frizz my hair out, I'll hurt you."

Trowa begins to comb through the damp strands. "Promises, promises."

+

Duo had listened to Trowa's protests; there hadn't been anything in the bet about buying dinner. But Duo had ignored him.

"It's all part of the package," he'd replied lightly.

"Christmas in February?" Trowa had responded scanning the inn's menu by the soft candlelight adorning their table for two.

That increasingly familiar mysterious grin had reappeared for a brief instant. "Maybe," Duo had told him.

And now, as Duo holds open the front door for Trowa, he inhales the early night air deeply. "Oh, man," he sighs, "I think I've just been ruined for peanut butter sandwiches."

Trowa looks pointedly from the open doorway to Duo. "What's this?" he inquires mildly but with no shortage of curiosity.

Duo shrugs. "The night is young, man. Did you really just want to go back up stairs and watch each other breathe for the next three hours?" Duo doesn't wait for a reply. "Me neither. So, c'mon."

With a resigned sigh that does nothing to eliminate the pleasant buzz of anticipation in Trowa's pulse points, he silently crosses the threshold and jogs down the stairs.

Noting the absence of any comments or questions in response to his declaration, Duo grins. Hands in his pockets, he begins strolling down the walk beside his roommate. "You know, I'm really enjoying this more agreeable side of you, Tro."

"I'm generally disagreeable?" Trowa replies, brows rising.

With a soft chuckle, Duo tells him, "Let's just say you prefer to have equal say in what happens to your person."

Trowa makes a soft noise in the back of his throat.

"Is it so hard trusting me?" Duo asks after a few more paces in silence.

Trowa glances at Duo, telling him, "It's hard trusting in general." Returning his gaze to the path before him, he continues, "But no, it's not hard trusting you."

Duo grins. "Thanks, man. Even if it's a lie, it's a nice one."

"I won't lie to you, Duo," Trowa promises softly.

His companion shakes his head. "Don't say that. You have before. You might need to again. So don't promise me, okay?"

Trowa slows to a stop on the sidewalk. "It's not okay, Duo." He seeks out Duo's gaze in the darkness and meets it with his own. "No more lies."

Dredging up a half smile, Duo persists, "That one of those future facts?"

Trowa shakes his head. "It's been a fact for a while."

"Hm," Duo murmurs, accepting this for the moment. Instead, he steers Trowa past a large sign announcing the presence of one of L2's few liberal arts colleges. With a slight frown, Trowa glances in Duo's direction but the young man's face gives nothing away.

Swallowing back another sigh, Trowa wonders what he'll have to say or do in order to convince Duo that he's sincere about his promise not to lie to him. Wonders if not being up-front with Duo about why he ran into him at the convenience store had been a bad decision. But at the time, he hadn't believed Duo would accept his offer of friendship. What would he have told him in the first place? Duo, I had this dream about you and in the dream I was in love with you and you needed help but I didn't know what to do for you so when I woke up I decided to hunt you down because I needed to know you were all right... Yeah, that would have gone over real well.

Yet another door opens before him and with a small start, Trowa glances up to see Duo motioning him into the fine arts building.

"You didn't sign me up for a pottery class, did you?" Trowa jokes as he steps into the cavernous lobby.

"Naw. Not enough sharp objects," Duo tells him. "And all their sculpture courses were full."

"Damn," Trowa intones. His gaze sweeps more leisurely over the lobby, taking in the sight of several student works displayed on the walls and near the plain, serviceable benches. One particular painting catches his attention and he wanders closer to it. For a long moment, he studies it beneath the soft white noise generated by the overhead lights. Feeling Duo's approach beside him, Trowa tears his gaze away from the abstract before him.

"What are we doing here?" he asks curiously.

Duo grins and takes a breath to speak. But it's a moment longer before any words come out. During Duo's hesitation, the first strains of music spill into the lobby from a nearby rehearsal room. They both pause and listen as what sounds like a full orchestra is put through its warm-up paces. When the students are allowed a brief pause before beginning an etude, Duo finally replies on a whisper, "Listening." He gestures to the artworks scattered throughout the room. "Looking." Turning back to Trowa, he asks, "What's your pleasure?"

As Duo's plans for the evening finally make sense, Trowa finds himself smiling. With a shake of his head at Duo's uncanny ability to surprise him, Trowa settles on a nearby bench. He leaves plenty of room for Duo to join him which he does. Leaning back against the cold wall of the classroom behind them, shoulders touching, they close their eyes and listen to the melodic merging of dozens of individuals in the room just around the corner.

For the better part of an hour, they sit almost leaning on each other and allowing the music to chase all thoughts from their minds. During a particularly intense, soaring piece, Duo feels Trowa shiver beside him. Opening his eyes, Duo watches a subtle shudder affect the flesh beneath Trowa's long-sleeved shirt. He can only imagine it's gooseflesh. The thought makes him smile.

When the song ends, the sounds from within the room change. Seats are being moved, instruments set down carefully. Although reluctant to disturb Trowa's peaceful figure, Duo nudges him.

"C'mon, Tro," he says, standing. "They're taking a break. In about two minutes this lobby's going to be packed with music students."

With a perfectly silent sigh, Trowa unfolds himself from his seat and follows Duo down a small hallway. They wander past the empty classrooms spying half-finished canvas paintings and easels, worktables and printing presses. In between the doors, bulletin boards are crammed with sketches and prints and photographs. As they meander deeper down the small, secondary hall, a different kind of music entirely slowly increases in volume. Rounding a corner, they see a gray metal door with a sign reading "Darkroom" standing open in the hall.

Movement from within the room snags their attention. They watch as a dark-haired young woman works at a large sink, completely focused on her task even when a lithe girl with her blonde hair cut in a short, pixie style embraces her from behind.

"Please? Just one dance?" the blond woman cajoles softly.

There's a short, indecisive pause from the woman working at the sink.

"I know you love this song..."

The blond woman reaches past her companion's shoulder and slowly adjusts the volume on the portable radio.

As the music begins to take over the small room a sigh of acquiescence escapes the figure at the sink. "Okay," the second woman concedes. She dries her hands on a yellowed towel and turns to her lover. "Just don't even think about dipping me."

"You're no fun," the first young woman says affectionately.

Remaining in the shadows of the barely-lit hall, Trowa watches the two of them move in perfect time to the music. But he only allows himself a moment. Slowly, so as not to announce his presence to the pair in the room just a few feet away, Trowa moves to head back to the lobby. He takes only a few steps before noticing the fact that Duo is no longer at his side.

Duo stands just inside the shadows opposite the open door, listening to the music with his arms crossed over his chest as if holding back a great ache. It's then that the words begin to register in Trowa's mind.

//"I have the bravest heart that you've ever seen and you've never met anyone who is as positive as I am sometimes..."//


The refrain builds, remaining soft but the melody expands to fill every void in the tune.

//"You see everything... you see every part...//

//"You see all my light... and you love my dark...//

//"You dig everything of which I'm ashamed...//

//"There's not anything to which you can't relate...//

//"And you're still here..."//
[20]

With those words, Duo lifts his gaze to meet Trowa's. The lyrics vibrate in the air between them as they both remember Trowa's promise to stay and Duo's disbelief that he would want to.

A shudder travels the length of Duo's body and the motion draws Trowa closer until Duo's shoulder is pressed against the other man's sternum. A slender, calloused hand gently grips Duo's opposite shoulder and Trowa stills, then. He inhales the scent of cheap 2-in- 1 shampoo from Duo's braid and listens to the song.

It's uncanny how perfectly the lyrics match their situation. For it is true that everything Duo has shown him, Trowa has understood, appreciated, loved.

Loves.

Trowa closes his eyes as Duo leans back against him just a bit. He savors the warmth of the contact and the trust in that gesture.

He loves Duo.

The revelation is quickly accepted. There are no fireworks of epiphany, no tensing of his body, no skipping of heartbeats nor holding of breath. Trowa is unsurprised by his emotions. But he remembers that strange dream which had driven him to find Duo and wonders: had the dream fulfilled itself in that Trowa had grown to love him or had he always loved him and the dream had merely made him realize it?

But in this moment, the how, when, and whys of Trowa's emotions do not matter. What matters is that he's found Duo and that Duo wants him to stay.

The song dies away and, with a shaky smile, Duo leads Trowa back to the foyer. The orchestra members had already resumed their seats and soft, melodic chords are spilling from beyond the closed doors.

As Duo turns to resume his seat on the bench, his fingertips find and trail down Trowa's arm, guiding him down beside him. A moment later Trowa finds himself with Duo's arm draped warmly over his shoulders and his back pressed to Duo's chest. When he attempts to shift his weight off of Duo, the arm around him tightens and the young man merely shakes his head.

"Stay," he breathes softly so as not to break the beauty of the music.

Trowa settles back against the offered embrace and closes his eyes. He understands that Duo is attempting to return some of the warmth and support Trowa has shown him. He realizes that Duo is sharing with him what it feels like to lean on someone trusted. He experiences what it is like to know he is cared for.

So this is what Duo feels when Trowa is with him stealing away the nightmares? Trowa can understand why all of Duo's attempts to assure Trowa that he doesn't have to stay with him have been so half- hearted. Trowa isn't even undergoing a significant amount of distress and he'd rather die than move from Duo's solidity and heat.

Slowly, Trowa's eyes open. Perhaps it's the perfection of the moment that alerts him to the significance of what he's done in offering Duo whatever he is capable of giving. Perhaps it's the suspicion that, if he and Duo's lives had been reversed, Trowa would never have the strength to let go of him. But Trowa suddenly sees the flaw in his willingness to offer Duo whatever it is he needs.

Because Trowa realizes that what Duo needs is absolution and that is not something Trowa can, with his presence alone, provide for him.

Nestled behind him, Duo opens his eyes as well when he senses the gradual tensing of Trowa's shoulders. "What is it?" he asks softly.

Forcing himself to relax again, Trowa shakes his head. "Not tonight," he responds just as quietly.

Knowing that Trowa doesn't want to darken their evening with his thoughts, Duo concedes the conversation and just enjoys the moment, not suspecting that Trowa has just realized that in order for Duo to truly be happy again Trowa must let him go.

++

[17] During the series, Trowa has an affinity for the lions at the circus and vice versa. Also, the circus manager is always stomping around calling Trowa a lazy punk or some such nonsense.

[18] During the series, Trowa tries to self-destruct in his Gundam when the circus is performing at an Oz base.

[19] The Waterlot is a gourmet Bed and Breakfast in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I have yet to eat a meal that tops theirs.

[20] The song quoted is "Everything" by Alanis Morissette from her 2004 album: "So-Called Chaos."

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