Author: The Manwell
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimers
Sleeps + Chapter 16
In the far corner of the shuttleport's
café, Trowa listens to Duo's soft but firm voice as he relates his story.
Duo leaves nothing out, explaining how he'd survived on the streets, that
he'd been taken in and cared for by the priest and nun at Maxwell Church.
He speaks of the rebels who'd broken in, his promise to steal them a mobile
suit, and the Alliance attack that had destroyed everything Duo had held
"I swore to avenge their deaths," Duo tells them, his tone never rising
although he does pause for a moment and Trowa knows he's fighting to keep
his voice from breaking. His hands are clasped tightly on the table but
he doesn't look at them. He addresses the brother of the man he'd killed.
"It became my life's pursuit to turn myself into a lethal machine."
Their secluded booth sees unnaturally silent as Duo's voice gains an edge
of anger. Trowa understands that, in order for him to get it all out,
he has to get angry.
"As much as I hated the rebel groups for continuing the war on the colony,
I hated the Alliance more."
"Duo?" Mara whispers, her eyes wary. She doesn't want to hear where this
going. Trowa doesn't blame her.
Duo glances at her before forcing himself onward. "They taught me everything
I needed to know in order to have my revenge. And so, on the fourth anniversary
of the attack, I took it."
In Earnest's hands, the journal Duo had offered him creaks beneath his
tightening grip. "What... Duo, what are you trying to tell us?"
They are perhaps the most difficult words Duo has ever had to say, but
he does so unflinchingly, "I'm telling you that I am responsible for Kurt's
Mara is speechless.
Earnest is not. "How can you be responsible, Jesse? You were a child!
What rebel group would give you the training and resources to do this?"
Trowa can sense Duo's slowly building frustration. He wants this done
and over with, but until Earnest accepts what Duo is telling him, that
isn't possible. Gently, Trowa shifts his hand beneath the table from his
own thigh to Duo's knee and begins to rub his thumb back and forth over
the denim, attempting to soothe Duo enough to get through this.
"The groups in L2 only cared about one thing: bringing down the Alliance.
I was willing and I came without strings attached. The fact that I was
a child only meant that I could fit through smaller spaces." Duo shakes
his head. "Don't you get it? They fed, clothed, and trained me. I spied
and ran messages for them. And then, when I couldn't stand the sight of
that base any longer on my colony, I stole the explosives I needed and
Stubbornly, Earnest shakes his head. "I don't believe it." Trowa watches
as he reaches for and grasps for any reason to dispute what his nephew
is telling him. "They caught you," he suddenly remembers. "You were in
a detention cell. You couldn't have—"
Duo laughs darkly. "I wasn't in the cell when the bombs went off was I?
After all, here I am and everyone else who was on that base is dead."
"How?" Mara breathes, trying to give her husband a moment to calm himself.
Dark humor vanishing, Duo tells her sadly, "I have a knack for getting
out of confined spaces."
Earnest sets the journal down in front of him and rubs his hands over
his eyes, suddenly exhausted. "So how did it happen, Jesse? Just tell
Duo nods. "I shorted out the control panel on my cell and snuck out. When
I was out of range, I triggered the detonator."
Those words, spoken so precisely, so coldly, draw a soft sob from Earnest.
He doesn't look up as his shoulders begin to shake. Mara, with tears in
her eyes, moves closer to him and puts an arm around his shoulders.
"Is there any possible way you could be mistaken, Jesse?" she begs, tears
brimming over her lashes.
"No, ma'am," Duo replies softly. "You have my word; it's the truth."
She nods as tears roll down her face. Trowa watches as she turns to rest
her forehead against her husband's and knows it's time for he and Duo
Deliberately, he squeezes Duo's knee before removing his hand in order
to place a scrap of paper on the table. "This is where we will be staying
until our flight later this evening."
He stands, giving Duo the room to slide out of the booth. When Trowa would
have simply turned and left, Duo hesitates long enough to tell his aunt
and uncle, "Thank you for seeing me."
And then they depart.
A real bed and a hot shower, somehow, don't inspire the same reaction
that they had two weeks ago. Trowa looks away from the open bathroom door
and then the pair of overly-firm hotel beds in order to find the silent
figure standing at the window.
From the café to the hotel, and from the front desk to their room, Duo
has said not a word. Trowa can almost smell the tension in him. He knows
Duo needs to let go of some of his anxiety, needs some small release.
And even though Earnest's withheld forgiveness is probably the only thing
that has the power to accomplish that, Trowa refuses to leave his friend
to his punishing silence.
Coming up behind him, Trowa wraps his arms around Duo's taut body. He
directs his hands to cover Duo's and presses his cheek against Duo's ear.
For a long moment, Duo doesn't move and Trowa begins to wonder if he's
merely tolerating Trowa's embrace. But then Duo's hands shift and Trowa
finds his fingers interlacing with Duo's.
"That was... hard," Duo contributes very quietly.
Trowa nods, unable to find words to express how very proud and in awe
he is of Duo for what he had just done. He briefly tightens his arms around
him, hoping the gesture can convey half of what he is feeling.
"But this..." Duo confides, "this waiting is even worse."
Trowa's eyes close at the pain in Duo's voice. He would offer a distraction
if he seriously thought Duo would accept it. But, were he in Duo's place,
Trowa would want to punish himself with the pain. To attempt to ignore
it would be to belittle the importance of this moment to Duo.
Trowa says, "You will always have a home with me."
"Trowa..." Duo begins and Trowa ignores the warning in his tone.
"I'm sorry I avoided you this week." Trowa chooses his words carefully,
trying to explain, but also trying to edit out his own feelings. He knows
Duo does not need that kind of pressure at the moment. "I knew you had
a family and I was sure that, someday, you'd want to be with them. It
was easier to start distancing myself from you than to face the day when
I found you packing up and heading off to be with them."
Trowa sighs. "But then I realized that it didn't matter. I was still going
to miss you no matter what and I should have been enjoying my time with
you instead of trying to train myself to let you go."
In his arms, Duo's breath hitches as he attempts to fill his lungs.
"I'm not telling you this because I want you to feel like you have to
choose between your family and me, Duo. I just wanted to explain that
it wasn't your fault."
Duo makes a sharp sound that, accompanied by a smile might have
been laughter. "You make it sound like that talk we just had actually
went well." Duo shakes his head but leans back against Trowa finally.
"It's not like they're beating down our door to welcome me into their
"They will," Trowa predicts. "Maybe not today, but they will."
"Is that another one of those future facts?"
There is a slight pause, during which Duo relaxes a bit more into his
best friend's solid warmth. "Trowa?"
"I don't want to think about this anymore today."
"All right," Trowa tells him, slowly turning Duo in his arms. His lips
brush across Duo's eyelids and down the curve of his cheek before settling
against his mouth. Like before, the kiss is undemanding. It is an offering
of comfort, of acceptance.
Trowa's hands frame his face tentatively for a moment before his fingers
disappear beneath the mass of hair to gently massage Duo's scalp. A soft
breathy sound escapes Duo's throat and Trowa pulls back with a smile.
It's an immeasurable relief to suddenly understand what Duo needs in order
"Come on, Duo," Trowa invites softly, nudging him toward the bathroom.
Duo looks at him with a slight frown.
Still smiling, Trowa informs him, "We're going to take a shower and I'm
going to wash your hair for you. Then I'm going to dry and braid it for
you. After that, you're going to lay down on one of these inferior beds
and I'm going to give you a massage."
"And after that?" Duo wonders aloud, already starting to grin at imagining
Trowa' suggestions in action.
Trowa's grin widens until he's smiling properly. He leans forward once
more and briefly touches his lips to Duo's in a delicate caress.
"We'll see," he replies.
As the sunlight begins to redden and stretch into the room beyond the
unveiled windows, long fingers trail lightly over a neatly woven plait
of brown hair. There is no sound in the room with the exception of a sleeping
young man's even breaths. Beside him, Trowa watches the lengthening shadows
and revels in this moment of certain contentment.
Again, he sends his fingertips seeking along the length of Duo's braid
and tries not to wonder how he's going to deal with Duo's departure. As
he had promised, perhaps not today but someday, Earnest will forgive him
and invite him into his life. And when that time comes, Trowa knows Duo
will go. He knows he won't try to stop him. But the ache is there, waiting
for that moment of loss to bloom. In fact, it had started the moment Trowa
had realized Kurt Franklin had surviving relatives.
Duo is no longer an orphan.
But Trowa still is.
Caressing the smooth length of hair lying over his own chest, Trowa contemplates
the young man currently resting his head on a nerve cluster in Trowa's
shoulder. When had Trowa become dependant on Duo? When had his efforts
to ease Duo's nightmares banished his own as well? When had living another
day become something to be anticipated rather than resignedly accepted?
When had he started to belong so completely to this youth he'd known of
for years and yet barely known at all?
Trowa closes his eyes and determinedly thinks of something else.
And finds himself thinking of their shower. Perhaps it's not the best
memory with which to distract himself from Duo's importance in his life,
but once recalled, he is helpless to not savor every moment.
The bathroom had begun to fill with steam and still they had hesitated
to get in. And then Trowa had reached for the hem of Duo's shirt. Duo
had offered no protest as the garment had been slowly pulled up and over
his head. Then, in perfect silence, he'd removed Trowa's the same way.
As the clothing had come off, the scars had come out. But it hadn't been
until after Trowa had pulled Duo into the shower by his hands that they'd
actually had the courage to reach out and touch the once- injured flesh
that no amount of water could wash away.
Trowa remembers Duo's hands on his back, tracing the old burn scars he
has no memory of acquiring. He remembers turning, expecting to see questions
in Duo's eyes, but he'd found a strange acceptance. As if Duo had known
something Trowa hadn't.
He'd taken his time washing Duo's hair, letting the water glide over him
as they'd waited for the conditioner to do its work. Gradually, both of
them had relaxed as the day and its pain had been forced down the drain
and into oblivion.
They'd spoken not a single word as they'd dried each other off. Towels
wrapped around their waists, Trowa had once again sat behind Duo on the
bed and taken up the task of drying and braiding his hair. It had taken
the better part of an hour mostly because Trowa elected to use the lowest
setting on the dryer which produced an almost-soothing hum.
Hair dry, he'd begun to braid. Trowa had taken his time with this task
as well, relishing the feel of the long strands. He felt not only the
texture against his skin, but the monumental trust Duo had been imparting
Still, no words had been spoken as Trowa had placed his hands on Duo's
shoulders, asking him to lie down on his stomach. This time, Trowa had
used lotion warmed in his hands to caress away Duo's tension. Before he'd
finished with Duo's shoulders, he'd known Duo wouldn't be capable of keeping
his eyes open for long.
He'd been kneading the small of Duo's back when Duo had rolled onto his
side and held a hand out for Trowa to stretch out next to him. He had.
And he'd felt Duo curl around him. One knee had settled between his. One
arm had gone across his bare chest. One chaste kiss had been gifted to
the corner of his mouth.
It had been all the thanks Trowa had needed. And he'd communicated that
by sliding his fingers into Duo's hair and resuming his earlier massage
of his scalp. Five minutes later, Duo had succumbed to sleep.
His fingers follow the path of Duo's hair again, and he's glad for Duo's
braid. Glad that it gives him the opportunity to actively touch Duo without
disturbing him from the sleep he desperately needs.
It is into this quiet, dusk moment, that a soft knocking on the hotel
room door intercedes. Trowa turns toward it reflexively then settles his
gaze back on Duo. Before he can debate the best way to disentangle himself
without waking him, Duo's eyes open. The swiftness with which he does
so and the level of alertness revealed tells Trowa that Duo has been awake
for a while. Awake and lying still so that Trowa will continue to pet
They share small, intimate grins before rolling reluctantly apart. Trowa
steps into his jeans and pulls on a shirt as the knocking resumes against
the door. With a glance over his shoulder to confirm Duo's state of dress,
he checks the peephole. Again, he glances at Duo and answers the unspoken
question with a nod.
Yes, their visitors are Earnest and Mara Franklin.
Trowa watches Duo take a deep breath. He raises his gaze to Trowa and
nods with confidence. He's ready for this.
And before Trowa can question if he, himself, is ready for this as well,
he opens the door.
For a moment, no one speaks. Duo stares at his aunt and uncle. Earnest
and Mara stare back. All three look pale and anxious and Trowa finds himself
breaking the ice again.
"Come in, please," he invites.
Mara gives him a grateful smile. "Thank you, Trowa."
The sound of other voices coaches Earnest into finally saying what he
has come here to say. "Jesse," he begins.
"Yes?" Duo replies, approaching him without hesitance. Trowa can see he
will readily accept whatever verdict his uncle has decided upon. Unable
to help himself, Trowa tenses in anticipation.
"I..." Earnest manages only. At his sides, his hands curl into tight fists
and Trowa forces himself not to come between them.
"I still don't want to believe it," he tells Duo gruffly. "I wish it hadn't
happened at all. None of it."
Duo nods once in agreement. There are only so many times a person can
apologize before the words lose their sincerity, so Duo says nothing.
In a sudden move which has Trowa almost reaching for Duo, Earnest grasps
the young man and pulls him close. Duo goes willingly. The sight disturbs
Trowa. Duo has never submitted so completely to another's will,
but Trowa knows that were Earnest to beat him to death right here in this
room Duo would do nothing to stop him.
And perhaps, in a way, Earnest's actions do kill Duo. They destroy
the uncertain, lost little boy who'd lived off of anger for so very many
He wraps his arms around his nephew and holds him close. Holds him close
and tells him, "It wasn't your fault, Jesse."
It takes a moment for those words to register but when they do, Duo returns
the embrace with equal strength. Trowa stands back and watches as Mara
joins her husband and nephew. Watches as she strokes Duo's hair and murmurs
her reassurances as well.
So this is it, Trowa realizes. He watches Duo embrace his family and be
embraced by his family. And somehow, for all of the times Trowa has envisioned
this moment, he still finds himself in a state of numb shock as he realizes
he's not the one Duo's holding on to.
[chap. 15] [chap. 17] [back to The Manwell's fic]