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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 16
Confessions

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 dear. [23]

"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 death."

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 planted them!"

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 me plainly."

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 to leave.

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 home, Tro."

"They will," Trowa predicts. "Maybe not today, but they will."

"Is that another one of those future facts?"

"Yes."

There is a slight pause, during which Duo relaxes a bit more into his best friend's solid warmth. "Trowa?"

"Yes?"

"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 to relax.

"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 to him.

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 his hair.

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 years.

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.

Not anymore.

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