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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 3
Finding Duo

Trowa pauses at the spaceport entrance and examines the colony before him. He's never visited this particular post in the L2 sector before. Never had any reason to. There hadn't been anything here to draw him during the war and the colony itself has been in a recession for years, so without the promise of payment, the circus wouldn't have come.

He takes a good look at the shiny façade of Duo's home colony. The wounds of the war still run painfully deep here. Heero hadn't told him a lot, but he had mentioned that much. That and, apparently, Duo had gone to see Heero to share his unease with this frighteningly stable peace.

Trowa begins walking, seemingly without a destination in mind. He carefully recalls what little Heero had told him about Duo's brief visit. And it had been very brief indeed.

Duo's first night camping out on Heero's couch, he'd had a nightmare. A screaming-to-wake-the-dead-in-neighboring-colonies nightmare. Heero had been forced to hit his friend in order to wake him up. Trowa can imagine the scene. Can picture Duo, gasping and shivering from the power of the vision that had been assaulting him. Trowa pictures it with ease; he's had not a few of those dreams himself.

Then Heero had asked if Duo wanted to talk about it. Duo had refused. And Heero had told him that there was nothing to be done about them until Duo faced the source of his fears.

The next day, Duo had left.

Trowa feels a rush of irritation at Heero Yuy. Not all of them had been trained so well, been given the appropriate psychological coping mechanisms. Trowa almost sighs. While he admires Heero and trusts him with his life, there are many things the young man still doesn't understand.

Of course Duo had left. He'd gone to Heero looking for comfort and had found none.

Not that Duo would have ever come right out and said as much.

Heero's advice had not been inaccurate or harsh. But advice could have been given over a vid call. Heero should have recognized Duo's visit for the cry for help it had been.

Perhaps I'm assuming too much. Trowa ponders his train of thought. Perhaps it's not really that bad. Perhaps he's letting his own experiences influence his assessment of the situation too much. But then again...

Then again, at the precise moment Duo had been on a shuttle heading for this remote colony in L2, Trowa had been asleep on Earth. Dreaming... about Duo.

The dream still bothers him. Duo, silent and unconscious. Unresponsive and weak from an unexplained cause. Trowa's hand tightens around the straps of his duffle bag. The more he investigates, the more unsettled he becomes. At this point, he is not capable of turning around and pretending everything is all right. But he marvels at himself. He's amazed that one little, startling dream had been enough to place him on this path.

And he wonders... What is his real motivation for finding Duo? He'd never considered the other youth a friend. Had never confided in him or been confided in. Had never known much about him at all. Had never felt the need to strengthen the bonds of their acquaintance-ship. Yet here he is, after a week of searching, traveling, and investigation.

He feels slightly embarrassed over this... obsession.

But the memory of the dream-Duo keeps him moving forward. He tells himself that he will not impose on the guy. He will merely locate him and keep an eye on him. Perhaps, if things look bad, he will approach him and offer...

Trowa's thoughts stall.

Offer him what, exactly?

Whatever he needs, Trowa thinks automatically in reply.

He blinks. Where the hell had that come from? Duo had never done anything to warrant such a strong response from Trowa. He neither owed the former pilot a favor nor had felt any inclination to be his friend.

But, no. That's not entirely true...

Trowa shakes his head ever so slightly. It's time to stop that line of thinking. He's here because, for whatever reason, he'd experienced something that had made him believe Duo needed help. And after all of the times Trowa had hurt him during the war, this is the least he can do.

He stops in several seedy-looking hotels and moderately-priced youth hostels, showing a photograph of Duo and asking if anyone has seen him. He makes noprogress. No one recognizes him.

Frustrated and nursing a minor headache, Trowa concedes that perhaps he's going to have to show the photo around at convenience stores. He doesn't want to. There are too many stores with at least three shifts of employees.

This could take a while.

He's wandering through a particularly run-down part of the colony when something catches his eye. A memorial. He stares at it for a long moment, then at the ruins beyond. His gaze returns to the slab that had once been an east wall and reads the bronze plaque.

Former site of the Maxwell Church.

Destroyed in A.C. 188 during an Alliance attack against a rebel group taking refuge there. Two-hundred and forty-five souls were lost.
[4]

Trowa frowns at the plaque. The Maxwell Church. Duo Maxwell. Duo wearing his priest's garb all during the war...

Duo survived...

It's not much, but it is a clue. He re-examines the site, looking for any evidence of someone's recent passing. But he sees no flowers laid out in memorial. He walks the site carefully, in a grid pattern so that he misses nothing. But there is nothing to find.

If Duo had come here since arriving on this colony, his presence had been as silent and illusive as a ghost's.

+

"You seen this guy around?"

The punk smoking a joint on the doorstep of the run-down apartment building squints at the picture held before him. He glances up at the tall, thin young man, automatically taking note of anything remotely valuable about his person. And, automatically, he dismisses the guy. There's nothing on him worth stealing or haggling over. But, hey, he's bored. So he asks, "Who wants to know?"

"An old friend," the stranger replies.

Taking a long drag, the kid re-evaluates his inquisitor. "That's quite the hair style you've got there, man."

The stranger repeats, his one visible green eye never wavering from his quarry. "Have you seen him?"

Too stoned to be concerned by the young man's intense stare, the kid says, "Why you looking for him?"

"He owes me a favor."

"And if I tell you, then you'll owe me a favor." The kid smirks, particularly proud of his comeback.

The stranger nods.

The kid perks up. The dude's serious. And his next words confirm it.

"If you help me find him, I will owe you a favor."

The guy must be pretty desperate. Bargaining time. "I'll tell you what, maybe you could just give me some sort of token in appreciation and we'll just call it even."

The man's green eye narrows. The kid can only assume the second, hidden beneath the guy's long bangs, does the same. "How much?"

Swallowing back a smile and adopting a speculative air, the kid leans back against the steps. Man, can you say DESPERATE? "Fifty creds."

For a long moment, the man says nothing. He simply stares at the kid on the steps, evaluating. And, despite his extensive experience in bartering on the street and the pleasant buzz of the joint smoldering between his fingers, the punk begins to feel a little nervous. He imagines, crazily, that the green-eyed stranger can see right through him, right down to his soul, and is weighing his worth. He's rather proud of the fact that he doesn't fidget, just presses the home-rolled joint to his lips and inhales slowly.

Then, finally: "I have to actually see him."

Smelling a victory, the punk shrugs. "Yeah, sure. No problem."

There's a long pause. "Then let's go."

The kid grins and pats the steps next to him. "Have a seat, my man. No need to go anywhere."

The man stares for a long moment.

With a sigh, the kid nods behind him to the battered clock that hangs in the apartment foyer beyond the dingy glass door. "If he sticks with his routine, he'll be by in about a half an hour."

"Which direction does he come from?"

The kid nods up the street, behind the stranger. The young man's eyes leave him and rove slowly over his surroundings once more. After taking stock of the area, he reluctantly takes a seat beside the kid on the steps, sitting with his back to the railing.

"Have you ever spoken to him?"

"Nah. The guy looks like he's totally off in la-la land if you get what I mean."

"Then don't try to get his attention."

"Sure thing."

So they wait. The kid sends speculative glances in the stranger's direction more than once. He wonders just what kind of "old friend" sits with his back to the street and tells him not to try to get the guy's attention. An old friend that doesn't think he'll get a warm welcome, that's for sure. Still, it's not the kid's problem. As long as he gets his fifty creds out of the deal...

A lone figure approaching with a weary, loping stride snags his attention. "He's early," the kid says, a little surprised.

The stranger doesn't turn around. "Just keep smoking."

The kid grins. He's starting to really like this guy. "You got it, man!"

And they wait. There's no sound of footsteps along the street but the man steadily approaches, his gaze turned inward and expression determined. The kid takes a close look at him and arcs a brow in silence. That guy looks even worse than I remember, he muses, taking in the man's pallor, the dark bruises under his eyes, the limp, dull braid slapping against his back.

Eventually, he passes the apartment building. The stranger's eyes follow him as he progresses down the littered street.

"That's him, right?" the kid asks quietly.

The stranger nods. Without taking his eyes off the figure in the street, he pulls a handful of bills out of his pocket and presses them into the punk's hand. "Keep the change," he says, standing to follow.

The kid shakes his head at the guy. Some people are just so damn...

He stares down at the wad of money in his hand.

Shit, that's a hell of a lot more than fifty creds!

He hides a grin and squirrels the money quickly away on his person.

"Too bad I didn't get his name," the kid wonders aloud. "It sure was nice doing business with him..."

But when he looks back down the street to catch one last glimpse of him... he sees no one. He blinks for a minute and shakes his head.

"On the other hand, maybe I should just follow his advice and stick to smoking."

The kid grins. Today, life is good.

+

Duo Maxwell stands in front of the guard gates to an old Alliance base and stares. [5] From a discreet distance, Trowa watches the youth sway slightly where he stands, as if attempting to convince his stubborn feet to carry him the rest of the way. But he doesn't move. He just sways and stares.

Trowa wonders if this is the base responsible for the attack on the Maxwell Church. He spares the area a glance, taking note of the rubble that had once been office buildings and motor pool hangars. Whatever this place had instigated in the past, it surely isn't in any condition to do so now. It is, obviously, abandoned.

Lost in whatever memory or vision that has overwhelmed him, Duo doesn't move for the better part of an hour. Trowa debates approaching him. He quickly discards the option of disrupting this moment. It's too personal. Too painful. Duo won't welcome his presence right now. But perhaps later... on more neutral territory...

With a shudder that, even thirty paces away, Trowa can clearly see, Duo pivots almost violently on his heel. He stalks down the street and takes a left at the corner. Head down, hands in his pockets, he nearly runs away from the ruins.

Trowa follows.

Several blocks pass without interruption in either Duo's speed or temperament. It's only a red light and a busy street that forces Duo to pause in his flight. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, eager to be moving on and keeps his gaze fixed steadfastly ahead. Trowa doesn't bother paying attention to anything other than Duo, which is why when Duo's body language mysteriously changes from coiled-spring to defeated-exhaustion, he has to hunt for the external cause, if there is one. He looks past Duo's shoulder and across the street where he sees a young boy in dusty jeans and a badly faded jacket with a grungy basketball tucked under his arm.

Expression sober, Trowa experiences a peculiar tightness in his chest as he realizes Duo's just been reminded of Heero. And Heero's new life. And Heero's advice. And the fact that he's alone.

For the first time in his known memory, Trowa wishes he'd punched Heero Yuy in the jaw two days ago when he'd had the chance.

+

He times it perfectly. Just as Duo emerges from the convenience store, supplies cradled in his arms, Trowa steps off the sidewalk and reaches for the door.

Their bodies crash together and the paper bag crunches between them. Trowa drops his duffle bag and reaches up to steady both Duo and his groceries. It also gives Trowa the opportunity to glance down into the sack.

He has just enough time to observe a jar of something that is probably peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a jug of water, and a fifth of whiskey.

"I'm sorry..." he begins. And then, pretending to take a closer look at the person behind the paper bag, says, "Duo?"

Duo, startled first by the collision then by a very familiar face, gapes. "Trowa? What the hell are you doing here?"

Trowa arcs a brow. "Shopping?"

They step away from each other, allowing the door to close behind them.

"No, I meant what are you doing in L2?"

Trowa scoops up his duffle bag. "I heard there were some jobs in construction out this way..."

It's a lie. But, luckily, Trowa's never felt Duo's almost manic compulsion to avoid falsehoods. [6]

"What happened with the circus?"

He shrugs.

Duo doesn't press. "Well, hell. It's good to see you again."

Trowa watches Duo for any signs of hesitancy. But Duo's exclamation appears to be genuine. He nods. "It's been a long time."

"Yeah..." For a moment, Duo looks almost sad, but then he takes in Trowa's wrinkled clothes and duffle bag clutched in his hand. "You look like you just got off the shuttle."

Trowa forces his mouth into a wry grin. "That might be because I just did?" Another lie...

Duo chuckles. He doesn't remember Trowa having a sense of humor. If possible, that's an even more pleasant surprise than actually seeing a familiar face. Growing serious once again, he considers his acquaintance with curiosity. "Man, it's almost creepy running into you like this."

"Literally," Trowa comments in agreement.

Duo shifts nervously, unsure of what to say next.

Trowa silently draws a breath and implements the next phase of his plan. "Duo, I know it's been a long time and I have no right to ask but..."

He has Duo's full attention now. Depending on what reaction he can read from the other man, he'll choose from a variety of pre-determined requests and half-truths.

Duo presses, looking intrigued and anxious and... hopeful, "But?"

That decides it. Trowa forges onward, attempting to sound a little awkward. It's hard to force the inflection into his voice. "I haven't got anyplace to stay yet and I can't really afford..."

Duo glances away and, for a moment, looks a bit uncomfortable. "Aw, hell, Tro. I'd offer to let you crash at my place but it's... a real dump..."

"That doesn't bother me," he assures him. "Unless you'd rather be alone..." He's taken a gamble using that last word. He hopes it will remind Duo of how very much he doesn't want to be alone right now. He hopes it will make Duo desperate for company, even his company.

Forcing a bright grin, Duo says enthusiastically, "Naw, man. I'd be great to have you over."

Trowa nods. "Thanks. I appreciate it." For another minute, they simply look at each other. When the silence between them begins to grow awkward, Trowa nods to the store at Duo's back. "I'll just get a few things, then?"

"Sure. I'll wait here for you."

With a nod, Trowa disappears into the shop. From behind the paper bag clutched to his chest, Duo lets out a long sigh. God, but he feels guilty. Seeing Trowa had been a miracle, a Godsend... And to have him ask if he could stay with Duo...

He admits that he doesn't want to be alone right now. But what is he going to say in defense of his lodgings? And how will he explain the nightmares? He hugs the groceries closer to him in an effort to suppress a shiver.

I'm such a selfish bastard.

He doesn't want to be alone, but he doesn't want anyone to know, either.

If I were smart, I'd be high-tailing it out of here while I still can.

But, to his eternal shame, he remains right where he is. If he's lucky, his current place of residence will sufficiently freak Trowa out. And if not that, then perhaps the nightmares will do the job...

Duo closes his eyes, remembering the looks of pity from the other Sweepers, the cool, detached evaluation in Heero's eyes... It mortifies him to know that they'd all either seen or heard him at his absolute worst. They'd taken a good long look at him and had sent him away. Oh, they hadn't been mean about it or anything. But still... they'd made it quite clear that he couldn't stay there.

What's so wrong with wanting a little company? he demands of himself.

And himself answers, Because it's not just company that you want.

Duo bows his head in defeat. Shit.

"Duo?"

He looks up with a small jolt. Trowa gazes at him with just a smidgeon of concern in his normally passive expression. Duo almost gasps as that look provokes a clutching pain in his chest. Dear God, but he wants someone to care...

Another grin. Another enthusiastic pose. Another mask. "Change your mind?"

Trowa considers him for a moment, his expression softening barely. "Of course not."

"Cool. Then, follow me. The horrors await."

Duo forces himself remain nonchalant, but in truth, he almost shudders uncontrollably at his uncanny choice of words.

++

[4] From "Gundam Wing: Episode Zero" Manga.

[5] In "Gundam Wing: Episode Zero," there's an Alliance military base on Duo's home colony which he and his gang attempted to steal from.

[6] Duo's motto during the series: "I may run and hide but I never lie. That's me in a nutshell."

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