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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 15
The Search for Absolution

"So, when exactly were you planning on telling me about this?" Duo demands in a low hiss.

"When you were ready—" Trowa begins to say.

"When I was ready?" Duo fairly explodes. "How in the hell am I supposed to be more ready for hearing that my father's really alive?"

"Duo, wait—"

"You sick bastard. I can't believe you! How could you let me go on thinking I'd killed him?!" Duo shoves Trowa away from him, a look of pure loathing transforming his gaze into something hard and cold. Having nothing further to say to the man in front of him, Duo reaches for the door knob.

The next instant finds Duo turned completely around, his back slamming into the door and Trowa's arm pressed across his chest. "You want the truth, Duo?" Trowa replies softly in deft contrast to his strength. "Here it is: when I started looking for you, I promised myself I'd do whatever I had to in order to help you. Whatever you needed. Whatever you wanted. It didn't matter what it was because I was going to give it to you."

"Jesus," Duo spits out after a moment of stunned silence. "So the whole thing—all of it—was to ease your conscience?" He snorts derisively. "Well, this just keeps getting better and better."

"Shut up, Duo," Trowa replies harshly, shoving him back against the door again. "Maybe it was about me. Maybe I needed to do this for me as much as for you, but there is not a day we've spent together that I haven't wished it would last ten years instead of twenty-four hours. I wanted to be there with you. And that's the problem because it's not about what I want. It's about what you need in order to get on with your life!"

Silence rings through the small, cluttered room in the wake of Trowa's declaration. Several heartbeats pound off in Duo's chest before he can begin to gather his thoughts. Trowa also calms. Almost in unison, their breathing slows and tempers settle. And that's when the enormity of Trowa's emotional outburst becomes evident.

Duo searches Trowa's _expression for hints of regret but he finds none. Trowa simply waits, his stoic mask abandoned, for Duo's verdict. Duo isn't quite sure of what to say, to think. Deliberately, he focuses on Trowa's actions, saving the sorting out of emotions for later. Although Duo realizes that Trowa must care about him very much if he went to the effort of trying to find some way to release Duo from his guilt.

Slightly mollified, but still wary, Duo summarizes, "So you checked to see if Kurt Franklin was really dead."

"Yeah," Trowa tells him, relaxing further, glad that his emotional outburst is not the new focal point of the conversation. "I checked."

"And he's not," Duo states flatly.

Trowa sighs and releases his hold completely. "No, he is, Duo. I'm sorry. Kurt Franklin died in the explosion."

For a moment, Duo simply stares back at him. "What the hell? I saw him! He just called you—"

"That wasn't your father."

Pause. "What?"

Carefully settling his hands on Duo's shoulders, Trowa tells him, "That is your father's brother, Ernest Franklin."

Slumping back against the door, Duo swallows once, thinking. "But that's not possible... He looked just like him. They'd have to be—"

"Twins?" Trowa supplies softly.

"Yeah. Twins." He considers Trowa for a moment. "How'd you find out? Driver's license photo?"

"Passport."

Duo nods. "So that's my uncle."

"Yeah."

"And my father's still dead."

"Yes."

"And I'm still the one who killed him."

"Duo..."

"Aren't I?" Duo demands, voice rising.

"Yes," Trowa replies honestly. "I'm sorry."

Duo nods.

For a long moment, neither speaks. They simply stand facing each other, absorbing what has just happened.

Then, with a sigh, Duo reaches up to massage his temples. "You never answered my question," he mutters.

"Which one?"

Dropping his hands, Duo supplies, "When were you going to tell me?"

"Soon. I was waiting to hear if he was... receptive to meeting you, to hearing your story."

Duo's entire body seems to freeze. "You haven't told him."

"No, I haven't. And I wasn't going to until I'd spoken to you about it." Trowa studies Duo's downcast gaze as best he can. "Do you want me to tell him?"

Duo shrugs. "I... I don't know." He pauses then finally meets Trowa's gaze. "He called here... does that mean he wants to meet me?"

"It might," Trowa admits. He watches Duo shudder once and wrap his arms around himself.

"I have an uncle," he wonders softly to himself.

"And an aunt and a couple of cousins."

The muscles along Duo's jaw tense in an effort to hold back the emotion those facts invoke. After a long pause, Duo whispers, "I don't want to tell them, Tro. What will they think when they find out? They'll hate me."

"They won't hate you, Duo," he whispers back, gently dragging his hands up Duo's shoulders to slide his fingers into his hair and cradle his skull. "They'll be sad, maybe they'll be angry, but that's what war does to people. What happened was the result of war; it was not your fault."

"I can't tell them," Duo confesses. "I... can't."

Trowa's _expression softens further. "Duo, you're hurting so badly over this—and you have every right to—but you need to heal." He takes a deep breath and tells him, "I can't heal you, Duo. And it doesn't matter how badly I want to, I can't. I can't absolve you of your past. I just don't have the power to do it. But your aunt and uncle..."

Through parted lips, Duo breathes, "Do you really think they'll forgive me?"

"Yes," Trowa replies very quietly. "That's what families are for." He pauses then, and amends, "Or so I've heard."

That gets a brief half-smile out of Duo. In the closed quarters of the communications trailer, bodies nearly pressing against each other, Trowa and Duo share another one of those moments with the potential to take them further and farther into each other's souls.

"Okay," Duo says into the intimate silence.

"Okay what?" Trowa replies, not even trying to break the moment.

"Okay, let's call him back."

"Right now?"

Duo shrugs. "Yeah. And if he wants to meet me, I'll go see him."

"Just like that? You don't want to think it over?"

"No, I don't want to think about it at all."

Trowa feels himself being drawn closer to the young man before him as the double meaning in those words registers. In all honesty, Trowa doesn't want to think about it, either. But he has to. Reluctantly, he guides the conversation back. "Do you want me to come with you?"

"Of course."

Trowa nods and reluctantly withdraws his hands from Duo's hair. "Then I'll call him."

Duo watches Trowa's withdraw and knows now is not the time to push the established boundaries of their friendship. Duo forces one corner of his mouth upward into something resembling a smile. "Okay," he says.

+

"Déjà vu," Cathy muses aloud with a gentle smile as she watches Trowa fold a pair of jeans into his duffle bag.

He glances over his shoulder at her. "Yeah," he agrees. "But I'll be coming back sooner this time."

Her eyebrows arc at that. "You're sure? Won't Duo want to stay and get reacquainted with his family for a while?"

"I'm sure he will."

There's a telling pause after which Trowa can almost feel Cathy's eyes narrowing. "You're not planning on staying with him."

"If everything goes well," Trowa says with indifference, "he won't be needing me for much longer."

Cathy snorts. "You are, without a doubt, a moron."

Trowa arcs a brow at her in silence. He considers replying to her challenge but the trailer door opens, admitting Duo and his freshly laundered clothes.

"Hey," he says, looking from Trowa's idle hands to Cathy's intimidating stare. "Am I... interrupting something?"

"Yes, thank God," Trowa deadpans, resuming his task.

Cathy sighs at Trowa and then turns to grin at Duo. "Good luck, Duo."

"Thanks, Cath."

The two of them are silent for a moment, sharing a look of understanding. Duo nods, indicating that he hasn't forgotten about helping Cathy tell Trowa the news, but they both know that now is not the time to do that.

"Keep an eye on my little Trowa," she tells Duo.

Swallowing back his laughter, Duo looks over at the young man who is currently taller than not only himself but Cathy, as well. "Yeah, sure," Duo says lightly. "No problem."

Trowa doesn't deign to comment beyond a soft snort.

Duo turns back to say good-bye to Cathy and finds himself embraced and her thick, auburn hair brushing over his cheek. "Take care, Duo. And remember you've always got a home here, just in case this other one doesn't work out."

Bringing one arm around her shoulders, Duo returns the hug. "Thanks, Cath. That means a lot to me."

"You mean a lot to me," she confides in a whisper too soft for Trowa to hear. "So you'd better come back and see me, Duo Maxwell."

Duo's eyes close for a moment before he can summon a cheerful grin. "Count on it, Catherine Bloom."

"I will," she assures him, finally leaning away.

Duo watches her head for the door and realizes, with a start, that she hasn't said good bye to Trowa. "Hey, Cath, aren't you gonna give Tro-bear a hug?"

Turning in the doorway, Cathy informs him in a loud voice and with a militant gleam in her eyes, "Trowa doesn't need a hug. He needs a swift kick in the pants. Have a good trip, guys!"

And then she's gone.

Duo blinks after her for an instant before turning to inquire of Trowa, "Dude, what did you do to piss her off so bad?"

Trowa shrugs and zips his duffle closed. "She knows I don't do good- byes."

"Hm," Duo replies, noting that detail.

Bag in hand, Trowa asks, "Ready to go?"

With a grin, Duo shoulders his pack. "Just waiting for you."

For a moment, Trowa hesitates. His gaze moves over Duo for an instant before saying evenly, "Then let's go."

...

"Can you see them?" Duo says under his breath, careful to stay behind Trowa and mostly obscured by the other disembarking passengers.

"Yes," he hears.

"How... how do they look?" Duo inquires, knowing full well he could risk a glance over Trowa's shoulder and see for himself.

There's slight pause and the tone of Trowa's voice tells Duo he's somewhat amused: "Nervous."

The corners of Duo's mouth curve just slightly. "That makes three of us," Duo sighs out, suddenly relieved that his three cousins couldn't be here for this impromptu meeting. Trowa had asked about them for Duo, learning that two are currently studying at the University of Edinburgh and the third is working in London. Duo feels a bit guilty for being glad he can put off meeting them, but this reunion is going to be hard enough without their added presence.

Duo shuffles along with the rest of the crowd, hating himself for being so glad Trowa is with him. I should be stronger. I need to be stronger. But just not right now. Tomorrow, Duo promises himself and Trowa, I'll do better tomorrow...

Tomorrow will know his fate, in any case. He'd already discussed with Trowa when and how he is going to tell Earnest and Mara and he'd decided not to leave the shuttleport without coming clean.

At least this way we won't have to impose on their hospitality if they can't... if things go badly. In eight hours, there would be a disembarking shuttle that could take them back to the circus and two seats had already been reserved.

"Mr. and Mrs. Franklin?" Trowa's says softly.

Behind him, Duo closes his eyes for a moment and draws a deep breath.

"Yes," Duo hears a woman say pleasantly. "Are you Trowa?"

Trowa nods and holds out his hand. "Trowa Barton," he says before shifting slightly to the side to allow Duo to step forward. "And Duo Maxwell," he continues introducing his friend without waiting for Duo to find his own voice.

In an attempt to banish his anxiety, he quickly offers his hand to the couple standing opposite of him. The moment lengthens as neither Earnest nor Mara accept it. He feels his smile begin to strain as his aunt and uncle continue staring at him, faces unreadable.

"Uh..." Duo begins and glances nervously at Trowa.

The soft noise jolts Earnest from his shock. "Jesse! It really is you!"

And before Duo can consider replying, Earnest has pulled him into a full hug.

"For a minute there I thought I was seeing..." Earnest's voice trails off as he leans back to address Duo directly. "Don't take this the wrong way, lad, but you've got Sylvia's look about you."

"It must be the braid," Duo quips with a casual smile to hide his heavier emotions.

"Oh my, I'd say you'd have had her beat by a good eight inches," Mara says with a smile.

Earnest steps back, his hands still on Duo's shoulders as if expecting him to disappear like a figment of his imagination. "I thought you couldn't remember them..." he wonders aloud, eyes searching Duo's face.

With an effort, Duo forces himself not to hide behind one of his familiar masks. "I can't," he confirms. "I..." Duo takes a deep breath, feeling suddenly shaky. Then a touch at the small of his back reminds him that he's not alone. Trowa is here. Voice soft but strong, expression sincere, Duo tells them, "Before you decide to welcome me into your family, there's something I need to tell you... something you need to know..."

[chap. 14] [chap. 16] [back to The Manwell's fic]