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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 17
A New Home

"Good morning, Trowa."

Trowa answers Mara's bright grin with a nod. "Good morning," he returns.

"Would you like some breakfast?"

"No, thank you."

"The usual, then?" she asks with a grin. For the past four days— since he and Duo had come to stay with the Franklins—Trowa has allowed Mara to serve him no more than a single cup of coffee in the mornings.

"Yeah," he replies with a lopsided almost-grin. "Thanks."

She laughs. "Are you this difficult to please all the time?"

Trowa snorts as he accepts the ceramic mug. "Yeah. Sometimes Duo just can't get rid of me fast enough." He watches Mara shake her head before turning to set the dishwasher. From this clue, he gathers that breakfast had already been served a while ago. "Did Earnest and Duo head out for the lake already?"

"That they did," Mara tells him. "And you'd better hope they don't catch anything." At Trowa's inquiring look, she adds, "I can deal with grumpy men, but fried-fish-smell is another matter entirely."

Trowa's grin fades quickly as Mara sits down across from him rather than heading out to garden or to run some errand. He briefly wonders about her abrupt change in habit but her next words clear this up for him.

"And I'd much rather sit here and talk to you about Jesse than start that load of laundry."

Ah, Trowa thinks, taking a sip of coffee. "What about Duo?"

Mara smiles, not minding that Trowa still calls her nephew by his street name. In fact, it only shows her how stubbornly Trowa is clinging to his friend. She finds this encouraging. "You care for him very much," she observes. "And I've tried to manage it myself but it's no good, Trowa."

"What's that?" he asks, dreading the speech he's sure he's about to receive. He anticipates her telling him that she's tried to be accepting of that sort of relationship but has decided she can't be. So he's a little surprised when she tells him:

"I can't make you smile the way your Duo can."

Your Duo. That one thought comes through loud and clear amongst the other messages she's sending him with that one sentence. He takes note of the concession, that no matter what his real name and heritage is, Mara knows exactly where her nephew belongs. For a moment, Trowa allows the idea to warm him but then reality returns.

"Duo belongs here," he replies quietly. "With his family."

Mara reaches across the table and lays a hand on Trowa's arm, preventing him from hiding behind his coffee cup again. "We have been here for fifteen years, not daring to hope that Kurt, Sylvia, or Jesse had somehow survived. We'll be here a while longer yet. And we can wait to see him again because the person who really needs him right now isn't Earnest. It's you, Trowa."

Trowa acknowledges her wisdom with a reluctant nod. "That may be," he concedes. "But you and Earnest are who he needs right now."

Mara hums a note of disagreement. "I wouldn't be so sure of that if I were you."

But Trowa doesn't dare second guess his evaluation of Duo's needs. After all, it takes every ounce of his own discipline to continually reinforce the belief that he must soon step aside. Stubbornly, Trowa tells her, "Duo deserves to be happy."

"And you don't?"

Trowa lifts his gaze to hers. "I'm used to getting by."

Mara shakes her head. "Be careful, Trowa. In sacrificing your own happiness, you need to consider what you'll be denying your Duo." She stands and pushes her chair in before concluding, "Earnest and I cannot give him what you do. Before you act in his best interests, be sure you're not just assuming you know what's really important to him."

He watches Mara head for the utility room, declining to offer a comment. After a long moment, he returns his attention to his cooling cup of coffee.

Mara doesn't understand. She doesn't see how Duo's dependence on Trowa is more from habit than anything else. And Trowa doesn't want to start something that could become more than friendship with a foundation like that. Duo must stand on his own. Only then will he be capable of making the decision to pursue a relationship with Trowa. Only then will a relationship stand a chance of being successful.

But Trowa is afraid. He fears that Duo will try to convince him otherwise. He fears that he'll give in. And fears that both of them will end up paying with even more pain that they've already experienced.

This is the only way.

With a sigh, Trowa checks his watch and notes the time. He has almost ten hours before his flight. Ten hours before he'll be on his way back to the circus. Ten hours to come up with the right words to convince Duo that this is for the best.

+

"Well, I'm sorry we didn't catch anything, Jesse," Earnest tells him as he holds open the kitchen door. He winks conspiratorially at his nephew who enters the house first.

Duo has to hide a grin as he recalls his uncle's reasoning for letting every fish they'd caught go free. "Hey, that's okay, man. It was still cool, you know?"

"Hey, boys!" Mara greets. And then: "You didn't catch anything?"

Duo looks for and sees the decided lack of disappointment in her features.

"Not a one," Earnest sighs dejectedly. "I hope you had a back-up plan for dinner, dear."

"Oh... I might be able to come up with something," she says, trying to sound uncertain.

Shaking his head at the two of them, Duo heads for the stairs in search of a fresh change of clothes and perhaps a quick shower. He, for one, is damn tired of smelling like insect repellant.

"Hey, Tro," he says, seeing his friend through the narrow crack provided by the open door.

"Hey" is the quiet reply. "How was fishing?"

"Okay," Duo tells him approaching their shared bed. He flops down on his back and chuckles at the ceiling. "Remind me to tell you the unabridged version when Mara can't possibly hear me."

"Hm," Trowa acknowledges.

Duo sighs happily. "I had an awesome time, Tro. You wouldn't believe the stuff I found about my dad." He chuckles. "Like, he was in the Glee Club in the military academy."

"The Glee Club," Trowa intones.

Duo has to laugh. "Yeah. And he used to have this pet ferret named Dinkledorf."

"That's a long name for a ferret."

"A girl ferret, no less."

"How devastating for her."

"And there was this one time Kurt and Earnest went camping and they caught the tent on fire!" Duo tries to relate the story to Trowa in between bouts of laughter. He's not sure if Trowa can make out his words for the chuckles interspersed, but he manages to convey the gist of it: a wrestling match over the last marshmallow gone horribly awry.

"And I was... laughing... so hard... I almost... dumped us in... the lake!" Duo wheezes. He chuckles over that for a moment more before taking a few deep breaths. Just as he regains control of his voice once more, the side of the bed dips with Trowa's weight.

"I'm glad you had fun," he tells him sincerely.

Smiling, Duo reaches for Trowa's hand. "Yeah. We should go fishing sometime, you and I."

Trowa nods once. "Can you swim?"

"Can I swim?" Duo repeats, indignant. "What kind of question is that?"

"The kind someone who's planning on dunking you would ask," Trowa tells him.

Duo snorts. "Just can't hold back any of the mystery, eh, Tro?"

"No self discipline," the other young man offers drolly.

"Ha! Now that's funny." Duo grins at him from his prone position for a moment before pulling himself upright and folding his arms around Trowa's shoulders. "I missed sharing today with you, man."

Trowa seems to hesitate before wrapping an arm around Duo in return. "Next time," he says.

Against Trowa's neck, Duo nods his head and sighs.

"Ah, Duo?"

"Hm?"

"Were you planning on taking a shower before dinner?"

Duo leans back and grins broadly. "Are you trying to tell me I'm not pleasantly aromatic?"

"You are..." Trowa begins, a strange emotion eking out in his voice, "very aromatic."

"Yeah, well," Duo tells him, climbing off of the bed, "if you had to choose between being a floating buffet or being a little smelly..."

"A little smelly?"

On a half-laugh half-sigh, Duo tells him, "Shut up, dude."

"Mission accepted."

Duo points an accusing finger at his roommate. "Do not pull a Yuy on me, man."

Trowa arcs a brow in disbelief. Their eyes meet and the moment hangs between them for one heartbeat. Two. And then:

"Shower, stink-boy."

"No respect," Duo grumbles with a grin. "Absolutely no respect."

"And wash your hair," Trowa directs.

Duo leans an arm up on the doorframe separating the bedroom from the adjoining bath. "Why should I? Maybe I want to offend your fragile sensibilities?"

"Maybe you ask too many questions?"

Duo laughs. "Well, I guess I could wash it. I mean, Mara's gonna need a few minutes to whip up that dinner she's trying to act like she hadn't already planned for tonight."

The corner of Trowa's mouth twitches upward at that.

"Hey..." Duo begins, his smile shifting until it's an _expression of shyness. "You wanna give me a hand with this hair?"

Trowa nods. "I'll be here when you get out."

"Cool," Duo says and retreats into the bathroom. He closes the door but doesn't immediately commence with his shower. Instead, he continues looking at the wood panel as if he could see right through it. As if he could continue studying Trowa without the other youth realizing it. Eventually, Duo turns away with a shake of his head.

He can feel the distance between them increasing. Ever since they'd taken Earnest and Mara up on their offer of hospitality, Trowa has been attempting to fade into the background. And all of Duo's attempts to share these new experiences and information with him have been met with mere polite interest. He's not sure what to say— what to do—to convince Trowa that Duo wants to share this with him.

With a heavy sigh, Duo strips off his clothes and climbs into the shower. He doesn't linger under the spray. Some instinct drives him to wash up quickly so that he can have a few quiet moments with Trowa. Duo hopes that the ritual of drying and braiding his hair will give Trowa the opening he needs to say what's on his mind.

And there is definitely something on his mind.

Having not taken a change of clothes into the bathroom with him, Duo wraps a towel around his waist. But when his fingers curl around the knob, he hesitates. It's stupid, he knows, but as long as the door is closed, Trowa's still in the room beyond and there's still hope that Duo might get through to him that he really wants his friend to be here with him.

Duo gets a little angry at himself for such superstitious thoughts and yanks the door open. The first thing he sees, seated on the bed with a brush in his hands, is Trowa. At Duo's abrupt entrance, Trowa raises a brow in silent question and Duo finds himself relaxing enough to offer a chagrinned _expression. He crosses the room and plops down on the edge of the bed, presenting his back to Trowa.

As the brush slides through Duo's hair, Trowa offers, "Things have turned out all right."

"Yeah," Duo agrees, hoping Trowa will get around to talking about what's really on his mind.

"You seem happy here" is the next comment.

Duo shrugs. "Earnest and Mara are cool," he replies neutrally.

"I know we didn't anticipate staying for very long, but maybe you should."

"You think we should hang out here for another couple of days?" he says, purposefully ignoring the bulk of Trowa's meaning.

"Longer than a couple of days," he says after a moment, "and... just you staying, Duo."

Duo feels his body tense with frustration. He can clearly recall a time, not so long ago, when Trowa had insisted he wouldn't leave Duo alone, and now it seems like all Trowa is trying to do anymore is just leave.

"The circus will be going on the road soon. You could just catch up to us later," Trowa suggests.

"Would I be welcome?" Duo inquires softly.

The rhythm of the brush slows for a moment. "You are always welcome, Duo."

"Then why are you always pushing me away?" Duo turns as he speaks, his quiet voice somehow filling the room in a way in which only a shout is capable.

Trowa lowers the hair brush and sighs. "Don't you want to find out who you are?"

Duo blinks. "What? Now that I know I have family?"

Trowa nods.

"Trowa, this doesn't change who I am. I know who I am. I may not like it most of the time, but I do know."

The muscles along Trowa's jaw tense as he searches for the words to accurately express his thoughts. "But, you're also Jesse Franklin and he's—"

"Put yourself in my place," Duo invites. "Would you suddenly become a different person if you were to find your family? Would you have to change just because a small, select group of people know you by another name?" He pauses and draws a deep breath. "Would you want to go through that alone?"

"But you aren't alone. Earnest and Mara—"

"Have absolutely no idea how fucking terrified I am. How confusing all of this is sometimes. They don't have a clue, Tro. And that's why I asked you to come with me."

For a moment, Trowa is silent. His _expression is unreadable and Duo is forced to rethink what he'd just said, looking far ways Trowa could have misinterpreted his words.

"That's not why you asked me to come with you," Trowa disagrees flatly.

This is news to Duo. "Oh, really? Well, why did I ask you?"

"Habit."

Duo needs a moment to digest that and he's still not sure he heard that right. "What?"

"Habit," Trowa repeats.

"You need to explain exactly what you mean by that," Duo tells him, his voice gaining a hard edge to it.

With a sigh, Trowa runs a hand through his hair, something Duo's never seen him do before. "You're used to me, used to my presence," he tries to explain. "I'm familiar but maybe I shouldn't be." He drops his hand into his lap and transfers his gaze to Duo. "You need to see what else life has to offer you before you make a choice, Duo."

Duo's eyes narrow. "You say that like staying with you would be a hardship to me." He shakes his head. "The hardest part about hanging out with you is moments like this one." Duo pins Trowa in place with his gaze. "Why do you think that by staying with you I'm settling for second best?" Duo cannot fathom how Trowa can feel this way.

Trowa opens his mouth to respond but then something in his _expression changes and the words die unvoiced. Duo watches, not a little confused, as Trowa gets up from the bed and moves toward the door. It's then that Duo notices the packed duffle slumped against the wall.

"You're leaving," Duo observes.

"Yes," Trowa replies even though the words hadn't really been spoken in the form of a question.

"Because you think I belong here and you don't."

Trowa pauses in the act of opening the door and, looking over his shoulder, says quietly, "Because this is the way it has to be."

And then he turns and walks away.

But not before Duo had seen the pain in those familiar, green eyes.

+

What have I done?

Trowa leans his head back against the seat and waits for his flight to begin boarding. He tries to banish that single question but it circles in his thoughts, relentless. So he attempts to answer it.

I've given Duo the chance to let go of his past.

But that's not the right answer and the question echoes again.

Again he tries to assuage it.

I've done the right thing.

Still, the part of his mind that refuses to accept the fact that he'd just walked away from his closest friend is unsatisfied.

I've given Duo the chance to be happy.


A moment of blessed silence accompanies that admission. Trowa dares to hope this is the end of his internal dialog.

And are you happy?

The new question startles him, making him cross his arms over his chest to hide the jolt of pain it inspires.

If Duo's happy, I'm happy, he responds decisively.

"And you know exactly what it takes to make me happy?"

Trowa's eyes snap open and take in a vision of Duo, hair messily braided, clothes rumpled, and bag bulging with haphazardly packed items. The vision moves closer and leans down until they're nearly nose to nose.

"Do you?" Duo repeats softly.

The feel of Duo's warm breath against his skin, the scent of shampoo, the slow tightening of Duo's white knuckled grip on his back pack strap all communicate to Trowa the fact that Duo is really here, that this is real, that he'd spoken that last admission aloud.

He says nothing, simply watches as Duo grins down at him affectionately. "Cathy was right, you know. You do need a kick in the pants."

Trowa watches Duo lower himself into the seat opposite. For nearly a minute, they simply stare at each other.

"What are you doing here?" Trowa manages in a slightly rusty voice. "Earnest and Mara—"

"Wished me well, packed us a couple of sandwiches, and sent me on my way with the promise that we'll both come back in the summer to meet my cousins."

Trowa can't think of a reply to that, so he doesn't bother to mutter one.

"You didn't answer my question, Trowa," Duo continues after it becomes clear Trowa has nothing to say. And before he can ask Duo to repeat it, the young man leans forward and asks, "Do you know what would make me happy?"

"I..." Trowa begins, suddenly unsure. "I can imagine," he manages finally.

"I'm sure you can and you have," Duo tells him. "But have you considered this: what makes me happy is knowing I can make you happy?"

Duo doesn't wait for a reply.

"So answer me this, Trowa: what do you want?"

As Trowa opens his mouth to reply, Duo touches his fingertips to the other youth's lips and carefully elaborates his question.

"What do you want for you, Trowa? Be selfish for one minute and tell me what you really want."

Trowa reaches for and captures Duo's fingers gently in his grasp. Slowly, he pulls Duo's palm to his mouth and brushes his lips across the calloused skin. He stares at Duo over his hand, noting the way Duo's lips have parted in response, the way his breathing has become slightly shallow and more rapid. Beneath his fingertips, he can feel Duo's pulse beating just a little faster than normal. He lowers Duo's hand from his mouth and interlaces their fingers.

Without a sound, Trowa mouths the dream he's so afraid of wishing for and losing, "You."

And a dazzling smile is his reward. "Is that the truth?"

Trowa nods, still grasping Duo's hand.

Grinning widely, Duo reaches his free hand out and wraps it around Trowa's neck. Trowa allows Duo to guide him nearer until he can feel the soft brush of Duo's nose against his own.

"That's good, Trowa, because you're what I want, too." Duo leans back just far enough to meet Trowa's gaze and continues, "And it has everything to do with the person you are and the person I am when I'm with you and the people we can become when we're together."

Trowa's eyes close as he attempts to control the sudden near-painful release of tension those words have caused.

"Can you trust me to know what's best for me?" Duo whispers, his fingers massaging the back of Trowa's neck.

Slowly, Trowa opens his eyes and studies Duo's _expression. He sees affection, sincerity, and confidence.

Confidence.

Trowa looks into Duo's eyes and sees the state of contentment he'd hoped Duo would be able to achieve. Very clearly, Trowa tells him, "I trust you."

"And do you believe me when I say that I am ready to go back to the circus now?"

"I believe you."

"And you understand that that's where I want to be?"

"I understand."

Duo grins. "Good. And now it's your turn to lean on me for a while."

Trowa blinks in slight, silent confusion.

"You helped me find my family," Duo elucidates quietly. "And now I'll help you find yours."

Trowa releases a breath and tells him somberly, "Duo, the odds of us finding any remaining members of my family are..." But Trowa doesn't mention the actual odds. Duo's slow smile rather effectively interrupts him.

"Something tells me," Duo muses aloud, "that you're pretty good at beating the odds. Besides," he continues with an enigmatic grin, "maybe they'll find you."

Trowa finds the thought of that happening not a little frightening and the emotion must show in his eyes because Duo gently squeezes their still-interlaced hands tightly together. Knowing that Duo won't leave him to face that obstacle alone, Trowa relaxes and offers an apologetic smile as he suddenly understands why Duo had asked Trowa to meet the Franklins with him.

And Duo accepts the apology with a quick, soft brush of his lips against Trowa's mouth. Still smiling, Duo gets to his feet and tugs on Trowa's hand. "Come on, Trowa. I'm ready to go home."

[chap. 16] [chap. 18 (epilogue)] [back to The Manwell's fic]