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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 14
Family Ties

"Morning, Cathy."

"Good morning, Duo," she replies with a smile.

Sliding into the seat opposite her, Duo blows softly on the surface of his cup of coffee. He looks up at her through his lashes and notes her overly pale complexion, the slump of her shoulders, and the dark shadows beneath her usually vibrant eyes. For the past six days, Duo has stood aside and simply observed Trowa and Cathy, hoping that they might resolve their tension themselves. With a small sigh, Duo accepts the fact that he can't hold back his desire to partially return the favor of friendship Trowa had offered him.

He clears his throat and glances around the mess hall. He nods to a few fellow mechanics before returning his gaze to the young woman opposite him. "So where's Tro?"

"He's already started going through his routines."

"This early?" Duo replies, brows rising. After a moment, he shakes his head and takes a sip from his mug. "I didn't even hear him leave."

"You say that like it's unusual," she replies with a small laugh.

Duo grins back and shrugs. "It is. But since we got here, he's gotten really good at sneaking out of the trailer before I wake up."

"Sounds like he's avoiding both of us," Cathy observes, offering Duo a sad smile.

"Um... Yeah," Duo agrees uneasily. "Look, about that, Cath..."

"Yes, Duo?"

He hesitates for a moment longer, giving himself one last chance to back off. But he doesn't. "What's the deal between you and Tro? I can tell something's off."

Cathy wraps an arm around her stomach almost pulling herself into a protective position. For some reason, the posture strikes a chord in Duo and his mind supplies a possibility he doesn't want to consider.

"It's... it's not... is it, uh, a romantic problem?" he carefully ventures.

Cathy's gaze snaps up to Duo's in surprise. "What?" she chokes out.

Duo finds himself incapable of doing much more than looking uncomfortable. The image he presents is obviously too funny for words. In short order, Cathy is laughing so hard, tears of hysteric mirth are streaming down her face. Heads turn at nearby tables and Duo casts about for something to say.

Gasping for breath, Cathy manages, "Spoken like someone in love."

Duo's jaw drops. "What? No! I mean, I... I just... um..."

Cradling her jaw in one palm, Cathy tells him softly, "It's okay, Duo. What's between Trowa and I isn't romantic. He might love me, but he's in love with you."

Taking a moment to absorb that, he takes another drink. He's not sure what to make of Cathy's assurances. He's not entirely sure he wants to think about them at the moment. He focuses on keeping the conversation on track. "So what's the problem, then?"

She cocks her head to the side and looks inquisitive.

"Don't sit there and tell me the two of you are just peachy, because you're not," he dares. Cathy wilts a little in her seat and Duo continues gently, "What happened, Cath?"

"Why are you asking, Duo?" she replies, looking wounded.

Her pain catches him off-guard. He draws a deep breath and tells her, "I'm sorry. It's just... Trowa knows something's wrong and I think it's hurting him that you won't tell him. He's my friend... the best friend I've had in a really long time. I can't just watch both of you continue hurting like this, you know?"

Cathy sighs and crosses her arms against her stomach. Leaning closer, she demands, "You won't say anything to him, will you?"

Duo sighs. "I won't," he promises, "but you'd better."

One corner of her mouth twitches. "Maybe you can help me figure out how to tell him?"

"Yeah," he agrees with a grin, "I think I might be able to do that."

A moment of understanding holds them close before Cathy tells him, "Thanks."

Duo arcs a brow at her. "Maybe you should tell me what it is before you thank me?"

"Oh, I suppose." The light, playful air between them vanishes as she begins to speak softly, afraid of being overheard. "I was in the communications trailer the other day, looking for some old contracts. We've begun booking our performances and the mayor of Luxembourg threw a fit when he found out we were planning to be in outer space for the first week of August. Apparently, we have a standing agreement with his city to be there for the fifth." Cathy waves her hand, dismissing the details. "Anyway, the manager asked me to dig up the paperwork, if we had it.

"So I was going through these boxes and I found an old photo album. I wasn't going to look through it. Why bother, right? But the stack I set it on fell over and some of the photos came loose. I was putting it back together when I found a picture of my parents. And me. And my little brother."

She pauses then, remembering.

"You have a brother?" Duo presses.

"I had a brother," she tells him. "He and my parents were killed during a rebel attack when I was just a little girl."

"I'm sorry, Cathy. Ió"

She holds up a hand to stall him. "But when I saw those pictures again, details that I suppose I'd forgotten came back. I remembered that Dad had this soft, golden brown hair that fell over his brow all the time and these gentle green eyes. I remembered the explosion and the fire that had killed them and I remembered the burn scars on Trowa's back. He's the right age, too..." [22]

"Hold up," Duo interrupts. "You think Trowa might be your little brother?"

Cathy leans over the table and confides, "Yes." She shifts in her seat and tells him the rest of her story, "Several weeks ago, Trowa and I were practicing this new knife-throwing act and I..." She blushes. "I nicked him on purpose. Just on the arm," Cathy hurries to assure him. "I used a clean handkerchief to wipe away the blood and I took it to a local clinic to be tested.

"Duo," she confesses, tears glittering on her lashes, "they did a blood test. Trowa and I share a little over thirty-one per cent of our DNA. That's a match. We are related. He is my brother, Triton."

Duo leans back, both hands still wrapped around his cooling mug. "Jesus," he mutters. "How long have you known?"

Looking a little embarrassed, Cathy replies honestly, "I got the results the day before he left to look for you. I... I tried to stop him from going. I'm sorry, Duo. I was just... I was afraid that fate would take him away again and Ió"

"I understand, Cathy," Duo consoles, reaching across the table to touch her hand. "It's okay. He helped me and made it back here safe."

"You'll keep an eye on him for me, won't you?"

"Whenever I can," he promises with a sad smile.

Catching that bittersweet _expression, Cathy blinks. "What? What are you talking about?" She gasps. "You're not thinking of leaving are you?"

Withdrawing his hand again, Duo sighs. "He's going to get tired of looking after me, eventually. I've got a lot of... issues, Cathy. I'm real messed up. I can't hang around being a pain in the ass forever."

"But you're not. Trowa doesn't think of you like that, heó"

"Has he told you this himself?" Duo inquires quickly before she can succeed in breathing hope back into his beaten-up soul.

She hesitates. "Well, no. But I can see it," Cathy assures him with all sincerity. At his questioning look, she continues, "It's the way he looks at you, the way he doesn't hesitate to touch you." She pauses, suddenly thoughtful. "Do you think Trowa knows you're planning on leaving?"

Duo shrugs. "Maybe. I've made it clear I don't expect him to babysit me forever."

"Well," she tells him in her best older-sister tone, "if he knows you aren't committed to staying with him that would explain his recent avoidance."

Duo winces. "You make it sound like we're heading for... well, something we aren't. I'm not... I just can't..." He sighs for what feels like the hundredth time in the last hour. "Trowa deserves better."

Cathy levels a finger in front of his nose. "Shut up, Duo Maxwell. I'm not going to sit here and listen to that crap. Trowa wants you in his life and if you hurt him, I'll break your legs."

Duo blinks. "And here I thought we were finally getting along..."

She smiles. "But we are. And we will, just as long as you understand where I'm coming from here."

"Uhm... yeah," Duo responds, hiding behind a sip of lukewarm coffee.

"You know, I was never really mad at you, Duo, for finding Trowa after he'd lost his memory," she says somewhat suddenly.

"Really?" Duo replies with no small amount of disbelief.

"Yes, really," Cathy assures him. "I was angry with the war, with what Trowa had already sacrificed for it. I just wanted to give him the fresh start he deserved. But... but you were right. You all were." She smiles apologetically. "I couldn't stop the past from catching up to him. At least with his memories, he was prepared to deal with it."

Duo shakes his head. "Trowa's lucky to have a sister like you, Cath. Really, really lucky."

She attempts to smile at that, but it's a bit wobbly. "Thank you, Duo."

"No problem."

Drawing in a cleansing breath, Cathy broaches the original subject again, "So what am I going to tell him?"

Duo shrugs. "I don't see anything wrong with the way you told me..." He pauses as a part of her story comes back to him. "But, depending on how close the resemblance is in those pictures, you might want to show him those when you tell him."

She nods, accepting the advice. Then a conspiratorial light enters her eyes. "You want to see them?"

"Yeah. Sure." He nods to his coffee. "Just let me dump this out."

Cathy nods and Duo pushes himself away from the table. During the short trip to the sink, Duo's mind begins to process what Cathy has just told him.

Jesus. Trowa has a sister. Irrationally, Duo is immediately jealous. How is it that Trowa had gone through the war blowing up everything in sight but had somehow managed not to destroy his family? How is it Cathy had survived but Kurt had not?

With shaking hands, Duo dumps the contents of the mug down the drain and washes up his cup.

It's now very clear to Duo that he doesn't belong here. Once Trowa finds out that he has a sister, Duo's welcome will be officially worn out. But he finds he can't really get angry about this. After all, why wouldn't he give them the space they need to reaffirm their bonds? Why wouldn't he be happy for Trowa? Or, Triton, rather. That had been the name Cathy had used, hadn't it?

Duo decides to be happy about this. Later, if he needs to mourn for his own loses, he will. Just not now. Not now.

He turns and approaches Cathy with a grin. "Okay, Cath. Where's this work of art?"

She smiles. "Right this way..."

He follows her out of the mess hall and along the grassy path to the communications trailer. They don't say much as they walk and when they arrive at their destination, Cathy knocks on the door to be sure the room isn't occupied before ushering him inside. Duo plops down in the chair behind the blank vid screen and watches Cathy unbury the box containing the photo album.

"Have you thought of putting those photos on a data disk for safe keeping?" he ventures.

She grins at him as she leans over the carton, lid in hand. "What do you think I've been doing with myself when I haven't been able to sleep?"

"Grooming the elephants? Talking to the lions?"

She rolls her eyes. "Even they get tired of me after a few hours."

"No! Really? I don't believe it."

She snorts. "Jerk."

Duo grins.

Cathy lifts out the heavy tome and offers it to her new friend with both hands. Gingerly, Duo accepts it and places it on the desk. "This looks like it's about ready to fall apart," he mutters, almost afraid to touch it.

She reaches past his shoulder and opens the album. "Just don't breathe hard," she advises.

"Or what? It'll turn to dust?"

Cathy smiles and continues flipping carefully through the yellowed pages until: "Here." Duo turns his attention to the page she's pointing to and has his first look at Trowa's family.

"Is this you?" he asks indicating a little girl posing in a pink tutu.

"Yup."

"You were cute," he tells her.

Her eyebrows arc. "I was cute?"

Duo grins unrepentantly up at her. "Yeah. What happened, Cath?"

"I met you," she tells him with a huff.

He snorts and turns back to the pictures. "These your parents?"

"Yeah," she tells him, her voice softening.

Duo studies the people in the photograph carefully. "You weren't imagining it," he says. "There is a really strong resemblance between Trowa and your dad."

Her gaze follows Duo's finger to the face in the picture. "That's my mom," Cathy corrects and Duo sniggers. "Can you be serious about anything?" she asks.

"Sorry," Duo replies, contrite. "It's just kind of weird knowing Tro and I don't have the whole family-less thing in common anymore."

A hand settles on his shoulder. "I know, Duo. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to it, either."

"Well, you'd better," Duo replies. "Because if you hurt him I'll break your legs."

Cathy laughs.

"We'll tell him," Duo promises her after a moment. "I'll help you."

Her _expression softens. "Thanks, Duo."

"You're welcome, Cathy."

She nods. "Well... I... thank you for listening, Duo. I feel much better now that I'm not the only one who knows."

"Yeah," Duo says, voice gruff. "I know what that's like."

A small instant of silence settles between them before Cathy thinks to offer to put the album away.

"Actually, do you mind if I look through it for a while?"

"Not at all." She gives Duo's shoulder a small squeeze before maneuvering past him to the open doorway. "I'll see you later, Duo," she calls back.

"Later, Cath."

Only after she's disappeared down the path does Duo allow himself to look at the pictures of Trowa and his family again. It's in this moment that his mind decides now is later and the churning emotions he'd pushed aside in the mess hall crash into him. On either side of the open volume, his hands fist. He stares at the faces smiling up at him until his vision blurs. Perhaps it's the contrast between having spent so much time, day and night, with Trowa and now suddenly realizing that Trowa doesn't need him anymore, understanding that Trowa has a family, knowing that Trowa isn't alone... but Duo is feeling more lost than he can ever recall.

His first instinct is to leave, but he can't. He'd promised to help Cathy tell Trowa. And he will. With a deep breath, Duo closes his eyes and resigns himself to staying on at the circus for a bit longer. One thing's for sure: he absolutely cannot think about this anymore for a while. Time to get to work. Maybe the mechanics have something for him to work on. Or perhaps he can break something in order to fix it.

Deciding on that plan, Duo collects the album and carefully packs it back into its box. He's just settled the lid in place when the vid phone beeps, alerting him to an in-coming call.

With a faint frown, he settles back in the chair and activates the viewer. As it warms up, he turns on the audio.

"Hello?"

There's a slight hesitation. "Hello. Is... Trowa Barton there?"

"Yeah," Duo says, squinting at the screen as it finally reveals a dim ghost of a face. "Can you hold on for a few minutes? Or I can have him call you back if... you... want..."

The screen now fully illuminated and the ancient camera now transmitting his own image to the caller, Duo stares into a face so familiar it rips a hole in his heart. The light brown hair and trimmed mustache, the hazel eyes... Oh, yes, Duo knows this face. Has memorized it, tortured himself with the recollection of it. Speaking becomes impossible. All he is capable of is gazing at the face on the screen.

Equally stunned, the man stares at the young man with dark blue eyes, uncomprehending. Finally, he gathers his voice enough to enunciate, "Jesse?"

Duo feels his eyes begin to fill with hot tears. His body begins to tremble so badly his breath shudders out of him. And with it, a single word, "D-dad?"

+

As soon as Cathy enters the tent, Trowa knows he won't be able to continue his practice. One glance at her tells him this much. Her shoulders are stiff and her arms are crossed tightly over her chest. He can easily imagine her narrowed eyes.

He sighs. It seems she's determined to give him a good talking-to. Knowing he'll be able to get back to work sooner if he just lets her vent, Trowa descends the trapeze ladder. He gracefully leaps the last few rungs and gives her his undivided attention.

"Trowa Barton," she addresses him and Trowa figures he's about to get smacked. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't have to. Cathy's already getting right to the point. "What have you done to Duo?"

He frowns. This is unexpected.

"Do you know that he's thinking about leaving already?"

Trowa feels a small tingling of panic at her words. Duo can't leave. Not yet. He has no where to go...

"But really, why wouldn't he?" she continues. "If you've been avoiding him like you've been avoiding me it's no wonder. He probably thinks you're tired of him hanging around. That you're just feeling sorry for him or something."

"That's not it, Cathy," Trowa attempts to interject on his own behalf.

"Oh, well that's a relief to hear. Too bad you're telling that to the wrong person!"

He blinks at her, stunned by her vehemence.

"Argh!" she huffs, throwing up her hands. "Men! I give up. I. Just. Give. Up."

Trowa remains right where he's standing for a long moment, frowning after her. It had been a long, long time since he'd seen her get this worked up about something. Are things really as bad as she says? Is Duo packing his things at this very moment?

That last thought spurs him into action.

Abandoning his morning exercises, Trowa strides outside and heads straight for the trailer he's been sharing with Duo. As he traverses the grounds, he attempts to generate a logical reason for Duo to stay at the circus a little longer. At least until Trowa has fulfilled his promise.

He doubts Duo is honestly going to believe Trowa's excuses for avoiding him. Trowa knows he's going to have to stop trying to distance himself from Duo. Actions do speak louder than words, after all. But that isn't going to change the fact that Duo will leave. Chest aching in anticipation of the inevitable separation, Trowa accepts the fact that this is simply going to hurt like hell. There is no way to avoid it. Especially since emotionally distancing himself is no longer an option.

Trowa cuts across the lawn behind the utility trailer and ducks beneath the uniformly stretched laundry lines weighted down with linens waving in the slight breeze and jogs up to the door of his objective. He knocks once before opening the door. Blinking to encourage his eyes to adjust to the shadows within, he calls, "Duo?"

There is no reply.

His grip around the door latch tightens until he notes the location of Duo's pack. It's still stowed under the bunk and mostly deflated.

Trowa leans against the doorframe and breathes deeply in relief. Okay, so Duo hasn't packed... yet. But perhaps...

With an irritated growl, Trowa retreats into the bright morning once and takes off again. As he strides towards his new destination, Trowa realizes that Duo probably won't go anywhere until he has a means of leaving. His gaze seeks out each truck and notes its location. All are accounted for and none are currently being given a thorough inspection by Duo. He leans into the mess hall doorway and scans the kitchen and pantry areas. But there is no figure with a long braid tucking rations into his pockets.

Without a word to the few lingering occupants, Trowa backs out into the sunlight and continues his search. Another possibility, he knows, is that Duo has just wandered off for a little time to plan out his next step. Trowa realizes that he may have to resign himself to waiting for him back at the trailer. But before he does that, he'll check one more place...

He blinks when he turns the corner and realizes that the door of the communications trailer is standing open and Duo is leaning over the desk to answer a vid call.

Trowa moves out of the immediate line of sight and pauses to think. He can't just rush in there and tell Duo that Cathy had told Trowa he'd been talking about leaving... can he? Trowa rethinks his strategy. Why can't he simply tell Duo that much of the truth? Still... how to explain his avoidance?

Trowa is still mulling this over when he hears an unfamiliar voice echo over the vid link, saying his name. For the briefest instant, he wonders who could possibly be calling for him. But then the answer hits him like a physical blow.

He reaches for the doorway just as Duo's reply trails off. Knowing that the circus's ancient vid screen has finally warmed up, he tries to prepare himself for the worst.

"Jesse?"

Trowa winces at the hopeful desperation in the man's voice. Shit.

"D-dad?"

The breathless ache behind Duo's stutter is the only warning Trowa has before he steps through the doorway. And with a glance, he realizes that the situation is much, much worse than he'd anticipated.

Immediately, he goes to Duo and gathers his shuddering body into his arms. With a quick glance at the screen, Trowa reaches around Duo's body long enough to disconnect the call without a word to the man still gaping on the screen. He doesn't even briefly consider guiding Duo, as he is, across the grounds to their trailer. Trowa kicks the door shut behind him and tightens his embrace around Duo.

"It's okay, Duo," he murmurs. "I'm here now. I'm right here..."

Still stiff and shaking, Duo whispers fiercely, "It is not okay! I just... I just saw my... my... He's alive?" Head bowed, forehead pressing against Trowa's sternum, Duo shakes his head. "No. No. He's dead. I... Shinigami killed him."

"Duo," Trowa beckons, attempting to get his attention.

"And what the fuck was he doing calling you?" Duo fairly shouts finally leaning back far enough to glare into Trowa's mellow, concerned gaze.

"Duo, Ió"

"That's some sense of timing you've got there, man." Duo's eyes narrow further. "You've been avoiding me like I'm the fucking plague all week and now you show up? What the hell?"

Trowa sighs and looks squarely back at Duo. Hands fisted at his sides and breath coming hard, the former Deathsycthe pilot is a formidable sight. So much so that Trowa resigns himself to having this conversation whether either of them is really ready for it or not.

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