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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 13
Moving On

The new church in Laurel Heights had blossomed with the addition of the roof, the completion of the floor, and a final coat of paint. Much to the surprise of Reverend Jamesson, the building had almost been completed by the end of the following week. He'd grown rather fond of Duo's humorous anecdotes and Trowa's dry commentary, so it had been with regret that he'd had one last conversation with the two young men.

"It's almost done," Duo says, tucking the day's salary into his pocket as his gaze moves over the structure he'd helped erect.

"Yes," the reverend tells him, glad that Duo had broken the somewhat awkward silence. "Very nearly. In fact, it's a head of schedule because of the two of you."

Trowa nods once, acknowledging the reverend's sincere smile. Duo grins as well, but doesn't look away from the new church. "So I guess you won't be needing us anymore, huh?"

Finally, the reverend finds himself looking into Duo's expressive eyes. He doesn't want to see these youngsters disappear forever, so he invites, "I'd be a great help if both of you would come to hear my first sermon..."

A strange thing happens then. Duo shifts and looks away, awkward for the first time the reverend has ever seen. In the same moment, Trowa steps forward so that his shoulder brushes Duo's and speaks sincerely.

"We currently attend at Maxwell Church."

The reverend blinks. "Maxwell? But that burnt down years ago..."

"Not the memories of it," Trowa replies quietly. He then looks to the new church behind the reverend and says softly, "It left a strong impression with a lot of people on this colony. It's a shame they only have memories of all the good things that came from its presence here."

The reverend notices Trowa's subtle emphasis on the word "memories" and hurries to assure him, "It is my hope I'll be able to follow Father Maxwell's example."

A small, strangled sound emerges from Duo but Trowa is quick to reply, "That's good to know, but I doubt we'll be able to stay here much longer."

"Of course," Jamesson says, "You're both very young and there aren't many opportunities on this colony for people your age. You'll keep in touch, though?"

Trowa nods. "You'll be hearing from us."

"Good. Then safe journey, Duo, Trowa."

"Thank you, Reverend," Trowa replies for himself and the oddly silent Duo. Gently, he steers Duo away from the building site, feeling the gaze of the reverend still on him.

Jamesson watches the two boys step onto the walk and as an afterthought, calls after them with a wave of his hand, "May you have God's blessing!" [21]

And perhaps it's just his imagination, but Duo seems to lean heavily against his good friend, as if experiencing sudden pain.

+

"Shit, Tro," Duo breathes, leaning back against the bedroom door until it shuts tightly in the warped frame. Pushing his bangs out of his eyes with the palm of his hands, he mutters, "Is it ever going to stop hurting?"

Trowa kicks off his shoes before lowering himself to the sleeping bag and arranging himself sitting Indian-style. "Do you want it to?" he replies.

Duo pauses and turns his incredulous gaze to Trowa. "What the hell kind of question is that? Of course I want it to stop!"

Letting out a long breath, Trowa leans back against the wall. "Sometimes the pain is all you think you have left of the times that meant the most to you."

Duo frowns slightly at Trowa's explanation. "What, like... holding onto the pain so you won't forget? So you won't feel like you're betraying their memory?"

"Or because it's all you've got, all you can feel, because it's yours and you don't want to lose that, because it's familiar, because that's how you punish yourself." Trowa shrugs. "There are lots of reasons."

"Yeah," Duo agrees. After hesitating for a moment, he approaches the sleeping bag and sits down beside Trowa. "I thought helping to build that church might help me see Maxwell Church as it used to be, before..." Duo pauses and sighs. "But whenever I think of it, I still see it in smoking ruins. And in watching a new church being built, all I managed to do is remind myself of the loss."

Duo leans forward and, bracing his elbows against his thighs, cradles his face in his hands. "May you have God's blessing..." he whispers. "That's the last thing Sister Helen said to me before she died."

Trowa watches Duo force a great, calming breath into his lungs and listens to the shuddering exhalation that follows. Sensing Duo's imminent emotional collapse, Trowa curves an arm around his shoulders and lays both of them down on the sleeping bag. Spooning behind Duo, offering him his presence while giving Duo the ability to hide his _expression, Trowa keeps one arm around him and just waits.

Duo takes several moments to get his breathing back under control and his pain locked back up where it belongs. During this time, he focuses on the tangible warmth of Trowa's silent vigilance.

Clearing his throat, Duo finds his vocal chords a little sore from trying to hold back his past. He grates out, "You gonna go back to the circus now?"

Trowa closes his eyes and takes a moment to inhale the scent of Duo's hair against his nose. "I was thinking about it."

"Oh."

"Something's bothering Cathy."

"Hm," Duo manages around the renewed tightness in his throat.

"Something's bothering you," Trowa continues.

Duo swallows. "Uh..."

He frowns when the body behind him shifts and he finds himself on his back with Trowa leaning partially over him. "Where are you going to go now, Duo?"

Caught unprepared by that question, Duo forces a shrug and a lopsided grin. "Not sure. Maybe I'll see what shuttles are available for tomorrow or—"

"There's one that leaves for Earth in two days."

Duo scowls. "How do you—?"

"Cathy's not well and we were running out of work. I check the schedule when I call her."

"Oh." Duo studies Trowa's face in the dimming light. He waits for Trowa to say something else but no more words are forthcoming. Perhaps this is his way of saying good-bye. Perhaps he hadn't meant it literally when he'd told Duo he'd stay as long as Duo had wanted him to. Well, Duo Maxwell has never been one to make an unnecessary nuisance of himself... "Thanks for everything, Tro. You're right; I can manage on my own now. So you should go back and see what's wrong with Cathy and I'll..."

Duo's words trail off as Trowa's fingertips settle softly against his lips. The odd half-smile on Trowa's face is a little surprising.

"I was hoping you'd come with me," he says.

Duo feels the weight of Trowa's fingers lifting from his mouth, enabling him to respond. He does so with: "Huh?"

Trowa almost chuckles at Duo's flabbergasted _expression. It's not often someone gets the drop on Duo Maxwell. "I need to see Cathy. You don't have anywhere you absolutely have to be right now. So... come with me."

"To the circus?" Duo finally asks.

Trowa nods. "Yes."

"You want to take me to the circus?" Duo inquires with a cocky grin beginning to curve his lips.

"I'll share my trailer with you," Trowa promises, eyes sparkling with mirth.

Duo laughs. "If you can say the magic word, it's a date."

Trowa sobers and murmurs, "Please?"

With a soft grin, Duo reaches up and glides the very tips of his fingers over the soft hair at Trowa's temple. "Sure thing."

"Thank you."

Duo blinks at Trowa's unexpected response. "For what, man?"

"For agreeing to come with me."

Duo snorts softly. "It's as you say, Tro. I haven't got anywhere else I need to be at this exact moment."

In reply, Trowa just gives him that tiny smile of his.

Cocking his head to one side, Duo adopts a speculative _expression. "Doesn't Cathy hate me?"

Both of Trowa's eyebrows arc. "What? Cathy doesn't hate you."

"Strongly dislike?"

Trowa shakes his head. "Why do you ask?"

"The last time I saw her," he tells Trowa, "was right after you lost your memory. She seemed... less than thrilled to see me."

Trowa sighs without a sound. "You know, sometimes, I think she really is my older sister, the way she acts. She just wanted to protect me from getting hurt. She doesn't really hate you, Duo," he explains carefully so that there can be no misunderstandings.

"Hm," Duo says, nodding. "Okay, then. If you say so."

"I do," Trowa assures him.

There's a short pause, during which they find themselves just looking at each other. Trowa thinks back to that kiss they'd shared on the street. Still, they haven't touched like that again. Not even at the Waterlot. There certainly hadn't been a shortage of intimate moments that could have lead to more but every time one had come along, Trowa had ignored it. There's no use getting further involved in a relationship when it's inevitable that Duo will leave. Soon.

Duo takes his time engraving the face of his closest friend into his memory. He knows that, despite what Trowa has promised, he won't stay with Duo forever. Someday he won't need Trowa to be the voice of reason and sanity any more. And when that time comes, he owes it to Trowa to tell him. So that Trowa can get on with his life.

Duo's gaze roves to Trowa's mouth and stays there. He'd like to kiss Trowa again—well, he'd like to do a lot of things—but he holds himself back, knowing that the end is near if not in sight. And he's not sure about starting something that has no chance of lasting, not with the loss of his father so fresh, not with his strength this diminished.

Sensing Duo's gaze on his mouth, Trowa reaches for the first thing he can think of to say. "I'll go book our tickets, then."

"And warn Cathy," Duo replies with a grin, playing along, pretending that last moment hadn't happened.

"Yeah," Trowa agrees, sitting up and putting his boots on again. "Since we both know how much she loves you."

"Turd," Duo accuses, not moving from his sprawled position on the sleeping bags.

"That's fish turd, to you."

Duo laughs.

+

Tickets reserved and a message left for Cathy, Trowa remains in front of his computer and stares at the open browser window. He berates himself for hesitating. He'd already decided he has to do this. For Duo. He'd sworn, at the beginning of this trip, to do whatever Duo had required of him. The repercussions to Trowa himself had not been important. Are not important.

With a slow, deep breath, Trowa types in the words: Captain Kurt Franklin United Earth Sphere Alliance. Then commences his search with the press of the "enter" key.

The obituary is the first document on the short list of hits. He doesn't think about what he's doing, he simply opens the link and scans the document. He confirms the fact that Kurt Franklin had actually died; his remains had been matched to his Alliance DNA profile. With those words, the small whisper of hope he'd held is finally silenced. Duo had killed his father. There is no debating that now.

Trowa takes a moment to close his eyes and draw in a cleansing breath. When he looks at the computer screen again, he is ready for the next part of his assignment. Within ten minutes he has all of the information that he needs. He memorizes it and then proceeds to erase his user history. With that done, even though his pre-paid hour hasn't yet expired, Trowa departs.

He feels the need for some air... and a considerable distance between what he has to do and what he really wants.

+

Duo glances at his traveling companion in the adjoining seat. For the past ten hours, Trowa has been asleep. Or at least looking like it. Duo hasn't minded. He'd been busy trying to get the kid across the aisle to put his book down and play "I Spy." It had taken a while and a lot of persuasion but Duo had managed to get a few smiles out of the boy.

Duo opens his mouth to gently inform Trowa that they've started to enter the atmosphere but as soon as the whine of the engines increases in volume and the air resistance begins to pick up, his friend's eyes open of their own volition.

Watching Trowa straighten in his seat, Duo asks him, "Have you really been asleep all this time?"

Trowa arcs a brow and gives Duo an expectant look as if to ask, //What do you think?//

Duo shakes his head and sighs.

"Didn't want to get in the way of your... mission," Trowa finally tells him with a hint of humor.

Both of Duo's brows rise in silent inquiry.

Trowa nods across the aisle to the boy and his abandoned book.

"Oh," Duo replies softly with a secretive grin.

"Looks a little like Heero," Trowa comments neutrally.

A little startled, Duo studies Trowa's profile for a moment. "Yeah," he says, suddenly understanding why he'd been compelled to cheer the kid up. "I guess he does. A little."

Meeting Duo's gaze, Trowa tells him, "I'm sorry he didn't understand."

Duo fidgets in his seat and takes a deep, calming breath. "Doesn't matter, Tro. It all worked out okay in the end."

Trowa's eyes narrow at the weak smile Duo presents. "Still... he should have taken point when you needed him to."

Duo blinks. "Are you... mad at him?"

"Yes."

Duo blinks again. "Well... shit." He pauses and gathers his thoughts in order to some sort of explanation on Heero's behalf. "Look, man, Heero's a great guy to have at your back when bullets are flying but he's not exactly an expert on interpersonal communication, you know?" Duo leans back in his seat and sighs. "I chickened out. I couldn't tell him what was really going on with me and I think he knew it. I think maybe I hurt him when I did that. Hell, we'd been through a lot of shit together and I couldn't be completely honest with him. I don't really think he figured I'd take off like that. I think he told me to deal with it on my own in order to push me into telling him why I couldn't." A crooked grin makes a brief appearance. "But it totally backfired on him."

"That it did," Trowa agrees. "So you think he was trying to help."

"In his own little sick and twisted way, yeah, I do."

Trowa nods.

"So, um... Are you still mad at him?"

"Of course."

Duo chuckles. "I never figured you one to hold a grudge over something as little as that."

"Little?" Trowa returns, fixing his stare on Duo. "It was important to you. It should have been more important to him."

Duo takes a moment to study Trowa's features. "What's with you? Why does this bother you so much? So, okay, Heero isn't a candidate for the Friend of the Year Award, but so what? Everyone thinks he's perfect but he's not. Just because he happened to screw up with me this time doesn't make him-"

"The instant you were on a shuttle headed for L2, I was asleep on Earth, dreaming about you. That no one knew where you were and then when we found you, you wouldn't wake up. There was something wrong with you and none of us knew how to fix it. And all I could do was just watch you while you slept and wonder where you were and if you would be coming back to me. To us, I mean."

Duo stares at Trowa for a long moment following that murmured confession. "You... you dreamed about me?"

Looking uncomfortable, Trowa nods once.

"You came looking for me because of a dream?"

Duo watches Trowa swallow and glance in his direction. "Yes."

"But... it was just a dream," Duo begins, trying to understand.

"Was it?" Trowa replies. "I'd never had a dream like that, Duo. I'd never dreamed in such detail things that had never happened, emotions I'd never felt, regrets I'd never had." He pauses for a moment. "What would you have done?"

"I..." Duo looks away before admitting, "I would have called Cathy to see how you were doing."

"And when you found out that I'd taken off? That I'd been having nightmares so violent that I'd been waking up everyone within shouting distance? That I left to deal with this on my own?"

"Jesus," Duo grumbles. "You make it sound like I was one step away from blowing my brains out."

"The thought had never crossed your mind?"

Duo doesn't answer. He doesn't have to. Only the fear of an eternity in his own, personal Hell drowning in his own guilt and surrounded by the condemning glares of his dead had stopped him from seriously considering taking his own life. He glances down at the feel of long fingers threading between his. As Trowa clasps his hand, Duo looks up at him.

With Trowa's warm gaze focused on him, he confesses to Duo, "I wasn't going to tell you about the dream."

"Why not?"

"Because it sounds..."

"Crazy?" Duo finishes for him. "As if fighting a lost cause for the sake of the colonies isn't?"

One corner of Trowa's mouth kicks up. "So long as we understand each other..."

"We do, Tro," Duo tells him, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. "We really do."

+

"Trowa!"

Duo steps out of the way and watches Cathy pull Trowa into her arms. He doesn't have to imagine the relief and elation in her voice. It's not only there, but on her face as well.

"Cathy," Trowa greets, one arm carefully circling her shoulders. Even though he doesn't return her enthusiastic embrace fully, Duo notes that Cathy doesn't seem to mind.

After a moment, she steps back and looks at Duo. "Hello, Duo. It's good to see you again."

"Thanks, Cathy. Good to be here."

"How was your flight? You look tired. Do you want something to eat?"

Trowa chuckles, drawing Cathy's attention back to him. "We're fine," he tells her then studies her more closely. "Have you been sleeping since I last spoke to you?"

"Of course," she tells him brightly. "But you know how busy things can get around here..."

"Hm," he replies, not convinced. "So everything's all right?"

"Couldn't be better," Cathy assures him.

In silence, Duo takes in their exchange, noting the tension in the air between them. Although he hadn't seen them interact all that much before, he doubts things really are all right. The forced smiles and lingering tension more than convince Duo that something is very off. He listens to Cathy fill Trowa in on all of the things that have happened since he'd left and knows that he can't just stand by and watch these two grow apart. Cathy is Trowa's home and Duo promises to do everything he can to sort this mess out. It is, after all, the very least he could do for his closest friend.

+

//"My name is Trowa Barton."//

He places the call in the middle of the night. Trowa doesn't bother with a live feed. For what he must do, a prerecorded message is more than sufficient. He allows the soldier in him to come out for this task. He does what is necessary. He does one thing at a time. He is careful, methodical, precise.

//"I was a rebel soldier during the war."//

Only later, as he watches Duo sleep in their shared bunk does he permit himself to think about what he has just done. He's set the events in motion that will eventually lead to Duo's discontinued dependence.

//"I met a young man during the war who called himself Duo Maxwell. We fought for the same causes, most of the time."//

Trowa lowers himself carefully to the bed but remains awake. It's strange, but as often as he's told himself that someday Duo will no longer need him, Trowa still can't accept the fact that he'll soon be alone again. But he'd promised to do whatever Duo had needed of him. And he'd promised not only himself, but Kurt Franklin.

//"We trusted each other with our lives but only recently have we become friends."//

The evening he'd confirmed the captain's death, Trowa had gone to the memorial site and paid his respects to the engraved plaque commemorating Duo's father. He'd sworn to help Duo through this, to look after him, to help him get on with his life. Even if that meant that Duo must leave him, must look into the faces of those who can give him absolution and wait for their judgment.

//"And when he told me the story of his past, I knew I had to contact you."//

The beginning of the end, that is what this is, Trowa knows. His eyes squeeze shut as Duo rolls over in his sleep and settles against his shoulder. Trowa turns his face toward that messy braid and inhales. This time he detects not the complimentary shampoo from the inn, not the cheap 2-in-1 they'd been using in outer space, but his own soap—the soap he'd left behind when he'd gone to look for Duo.

//"I know what I'm about to say will be difficult to believe."//

The last thing he wants is to let Duo go, but Trowa doesn't see that he has any other choice. Duo cannot go on like this, floundering in the past. He must deal, adapt, survive. Trowa only hopes that someday, Duo will accept that Trowa's actions had been done out of friendship and love.

//"Duo Maxwell is not his given name. It's the name of a lost child who grew up an orphan on the streets. It's the name chosen by a little boy who couldn't remember that his real name had once been Jesse Franklin..."//

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