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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 10
Judgement

The colony lights have been steadily dimming for the last half hour. The breeze has picked up and the temperature has dropped. Still, Duo doesn't move from the bench. As long as he's here, he can pretend that Trowa's still waiting for him.

He pulls the sleeves of the sweater over his hands and props his right foot up on the edge of the bench, hugging one leg to his chest. He drapes his left arm over his knee and nuzzles the fabric. The sweater has the feel of having endured too many washings. It's flat and heavy against his skin. He sighs into the weave, thankful that he has this even if he has nothing else. If Trowa's really gone, then at least Duo has this garment. The warmest article of clothing Trowa had brought with him. The item he had dressed Duo in without the barest hesitation. Perhaps it wouldn't mean that much to someone who has always had a home with central heating or loving arms at their disposal. But to Duo... to the little boy who'd had to survive on the streets, who'd been cold and hungry more often than not, who is aware of how rare pure, genuine kindness is, this stretched-out, lived-in sweater symbolizes everything he's ever wanted and had convinced himself he'd never have. If Trowa really is gone, then at least he'll have the memory of Trowa's generosity and care and friendship to keep him warm.

He just hopes the memory will be enough.

Duo closes his eyes and sighs. It's getting late. He knows this. Still, he hesitates. He knows it'll hurt if Trowa has left. But... what if he hasn't?

His eyes open and his gaze sweeps over the park as he ponders this new contingency. What will he say if Trowa's still there? What will he expect Duo to say? To apologize? For what exactly? The past? The ironic tragedy that is his life? For holding the truth back for so long? For needing him? And what if he doesn't want an apology? What if he expects something else? An explanation?

Duo wracks his brain, trying to prepare himself for any possible confrontation. After several, long minutes, Duo decides his best bet is to apologize, to state firmly and clearly that Trowa can walk away if he wants to.

That will be the real test. If Trowa is still there, will he take the out Duo has decided to offer him?

And what if he doesn't?

The chill begins to permeate Duo's clothes and he shudders. He considers this possible outcome. And then realizes that the test isn't Trowa's to pass or fail, but Duo's.

Can I look him in the eye knowing that he knows?


Maybe.

Maybe not.

But he knows he's not going to know the answer to that until he gets off of his ass, goes back to the house, and tries.

+

Duo freezes on the threshold. His gaze slides, disbelieving over the scene before him. Trowa's sleeping bag is gone from its usual place against the west wall. And the corner that had held his grungy duffle bag is vacant as well. But that isn't the biggest shock. Duo's biggest surprise is... well... Trowa.

The young man's long, lean body is slumped against the wall, his legs sprawled across Duo's sleeping bag. The bed looks... thicker somehow and Duo realizes Trowa's doubled up their bags, providing an extra two layers of padding. He's still wearing the clothes he'd worn to bed the night before. His jaw is shadowed with stubble and his hair is sticking up in a few places. Beside him lies Kurt Franklin's journal and Trowa's left hand is resting on top of it, palm up. Duo would call the pose an invitation except for one small detail: Trowa is asleep.

He hovers in the doorway, indecisive. Should he go in and sit down next to him? Should he leave and come back in the morning? Curl up on the floor? Wake Trowa up? As much time and effort as he'd devoted to discovering all possible outcomes to this day, the present situation had not been among them. He sighs.

"Duo?"

Duo starts guiltily in the doorway as Trowa stirs and blinks open his eyes. Very quietly, he says, "Yeah, Tro. It's me. Go back to sleep."

Trowa shakes his head. "Wasn't sleeping. Just drifting."

"Oh."

Taking a deep breath, Trowa sits up and carefully observes Duo's current mood. After a bit of a pause, during which he gathers as much information as he can, Trowa moves the journal aside and pats the surface of the bedding once.

Definitely an invitation, Duo decides. He takes a step into the room, anxious but unable to resist the offer. It's the sound of the door thumping closed behind him that makes him pull up.

"Duo?" Trowa makes a conscious effort to keep his voice neutral. He cannot make another mistake like he had last Thursday morning. He calls upon the instincts he'd developed as a child to wait for Duo to make the next move.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Duo clears his throat and glances around the room, finding the sight of Trowa's duffle bag leaning against his own back pack to be a particularly fascinating sight. "You know, it's okay if you've changed your mind."

Trowa says nothing. And he doesn't intend to break his silence until he's absolutely sure he knows where Duo is going with this... and why.

Not receiving a response, Duo clarifies, "You don't have to stay here just because you said you would." At the edge of his vision, Trowa is perfectly still. That's got to be a bad sign, right? Despite having prepared himself for this, despite having rehearsed this speech for the last hour, Duo feels himself tense. And when he gets tense... "I mean, you didn't really know the whole story when you, um, promised and I certainly don't expect you to hang around if you want to go but I'm really glad I told you and all because I needed to and I feel better knowing I'm not the only one who knows anymore so---"

"Duo."

Duo's babbling stumbles to a reluctant halt. He turns his gaze in Trowa's direction and prepares himself for the inevitable.

"Do you want me to go?"

Duo blinks. "That's..." Not what I was expecting... "...not the point. I extracted a promise from you under false pretenses which isn't fair at all to you and---"

Gently, Trowa interrupts, "That's not how I remember it. I offered. Of my own volition."

"But new information has kinda come to light here and that's changed things---"

"Not what's important," Trowa cuts in.

Miraculously, Duo closes his mouth and simply stares at Trowa.

Sensing that his friend might be ready to have a dialog with him, Trowa repeats, "Do you want me to go?"

Anger flares in Duo's eyes. "God damn it, Trowa. That's not what this is about."

"What is it about?"

"What do you want?"

Trowa pauses until Duo takes two deep breaths and looks like he might actually be able to hear Trowa's response. He says, "The same thing you want, I think. For the nightmares to stop."

The words have an interesting effect on Duo. The anger vanishes completely. A small frown creases his brow as he stops and thinks about what Trowa has just said. And then his eyes widen as he makes the connections. "Trowa, you...?"

Trowa returns Duo's baffled gaze. "Is it so hard to believe I still have nightmares, too?"

Duo closes his eyes, retreating for a moment. He hadn't thought of this. Of all the things he thought Trowa might say in reply to Duo's offer to let him off the hook, this he had not even remotely considered.

Trowa... needs me, too?

"But, Tro... I haven't done anything except be a fucking leech ever since you got here!"

Trowa differs, "No. You've leaned once in a while. That's all."

"But I don't want to lean 'once in a while,'" Duo protests. "I want to lean all the God damned time!"

Trowa takes a breath with which to reply but Duo speaks over him.

"And at the same time I don't want to lean at all. I've survived growing up on the streets, terrorist groups and pilot training, a God damn war... I'm stronger than this. I don't need---"

"You are the strongest person I know," Trowa tells him bluntly, sincerely.

Duo closes his mouth and swallows. It almost hurts to hear Trowa say that about him. Perhaps that's because he so badly wants it to be true.

Into Duo's silence, Trowa continues, "You have withstood more than anyone could ever be expected to endure." He pauses, then continues more quietly, "You earned my respect a long time ago, Duo. And my trust. You still have both."

Shoulders slumping, Duo admits, "I... I don't want to lose them."

"You haven't," Trowa assures him. "You won't."

"That's... a hell of a lot to promise a guy, Trowa."

Trowa's steady gaze holds Duo perfectly still. He replies, "It's not a promise. It's a future fact."

For a moment, no one moves. Eyes sliding closed, Duo's breath hisses out from between his teeth. He pivots and braces himself against the wall with an arm. Avoiding Trowa's eyes, he tells him, "This isn't going the way I expected it to."

"How so?"

"I thought... I..."

Trowa waits.

"I didn't expect you to still be here when I got back."

Then you don't know me very well, do you, Duo? Trowa bites back the words. This isn't about Trowa and this isn't about Duo not trusting him. This is about Duo punishing himself for the choices he'd made in the past.

Trowa asks, "Did you want me to be?"

"I... did and I didn't." Duo glares at the opposite wall and gathers his reasoning, prepares to articulate it. "I wanted you to be here but I didn't want to have to face myself."

"I'm not judging you, Duo."

One side of Duo's mouth stretches upward in a rueful parody of a grin. "I wish you would."

Trowa's getting a little tired of this pity game. "I caused the deaths of everyone in my troupe. Knowingly. I'm hardly qualified to pass judgment on you." [16]

Duo's body jerks subtly at the admission. Before he can stop himself, he looks over his shoulder at Trowa. Seeing the resignation in his face, the flat look in his eyes, Duo wishes Trowa had punched him instead. "I... I am such an ass," he apologizes.

The corners of Trowa's mouth lift upward. "Not an ass. Just overwhelmed."

Duo arcs a brow. "Just like that? I'm forgiven?"

"You're too damn charming for anyone to stay mad at you for long," Trowa says in his typical monotone.

"Even you," Duo concludes with a genuine grin.

Trowa silently concurs.

Duo turns, leaning his back against the wall and running his hands through his bangs and over his hair. "Shit, I'm tired."

Accepting Duo's blatant attempt to drop the conversation for now, Trowa nods. He leans forward and unzips the sleeping bag as Duo unlaces and toes off his boots. Trowa slides beneath the covers and takes the place against the wall, giving Duo the freedom to leave the bed whenever he chooses. If he chooses.

Duo shakes his head at himself as he shuts off the small lantern. He can't help thinking this day should have ended very differently, that he shouldn't feel so relaxed crawling into bed with Trowa, that he shouldn't settle so easily against his friend's side, that he shouldn't like the feel of Trowa's arm around his shoulders nearly as much as he does.

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