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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 4
Disrupting the Cycle

Trowa opens his eyes, but just barely. For a long moment, he studies the shadowed, cracked ceiling above him through his lashes. With an iron grip on his respiration, he attempts to recall where he is...

L2.

With Duo.

Ah yes...

He listens to the soft, just discernable sounds in the room, recalling the trek to Duo's place. He remembers Duo's warning to stick to the shadows as they'd turned down one grimy street and then another, their path becoming progressively worse. Businesses had given way to low-income apartments which had given way to boarded-up houses... like this one. The sign on the door had warned of both the building's dubious structural integrity and the possibility of legal action being taken against anyone caught trespassing. They had slipped in through the back.

Trowa frowns faintly as he adds this new piece to the strange puzzle he's discovered. The house is blocks away from any legitimate tenants. In fact, the entire neighborhood had been condemned by the looks of things.

So Duo is aware of his nightmares. And he doesn't want anyone to find out about them.

But if that truly is the case then...

...then why did he agree to let me stay?

He shifts on the army surplus sleeping bag he'd picked up that afternoon before following Duo back here. His gaze moves over the room, noting the small, battery powered heater and hotplate which is the only other thing in the room aside from Trowa's sleeping bag and Duo's.

Duo...

Trowa leans up on one elbow, squinting through the inky darkness. He nearly holds his breath as he watches and listens...

A slight rustle. A weak moan bitten off in mid-breath.

Duo is dreaming.

In complete silence, Trowa slides out of bed and crosses the short distance to kneel at Duo's side. Being so much closer, he can see the frown pulling at the young man's brows, can hear his restless movements, can smell the sharp odor of fear.

A nightmare.

Trowa hesitates.

Duo's lips part, moving slightly as if attempting to form words. From within the sleeping bag, a calloused hand emerges, pushes at the down-filled fabric defensively. Trowa draws a deep breath and hopes he doesn't aggravate Duo's anxiety.

Gently, he gathers the exposed hand in his own, hooking this thumb around Duo's. It's a safety clasp, a climber's clasp. A warm presence calling one's partner back from a dangerous precipice.

As soon as Trowa's fingers wrap around the base of Duo's thumb and wrist, the young man quiets. Knowing that nothing is ever this easy, Trowa waits and watches. Sure enough, after a long moment, a second choked-off noise escapes from Duo's throat. Trowa's sharp gaze roves over the sleeping youth, noting the continued tension.

Trowa is aware that nightmares begin as dreams. Dreams which put the sleeper on guard, causing tension. And the mind reacts to the increased tension, anticipating and creating something unpleasant. The unpleasant imagery generates more tension, which is again interpreted by the brain... It's an almost inevitable cycle. The key to stopping it, in Trowa's experience, is to remove the catalyst; that is, relieve the tension.

Slowly, gingerly, he reaches behind Duo's shoulders with his free hand and gently places his thumb and forefinger on either side of his neck. Using his knowledge of anatomy and physical therapy, he begins a firm but gentle massage. As expected, Duo's muscles are taut with stress and Trowa settles himself more comfortably on the floor; he's going to be here for a while.

He keeps up the pressure, kneading the straining muscles. He listens to the sound of Duo's breathing and keeps his gaze trained on the young man's face. He has no interest in waking Duo and would prefer to avoid it. The other man had looked absolutely exhausted. Obviously, a good night's sleep has been an illusive luxury.

Trowa doesn't bother to try to keep track of the time as he attempts to settle Duo into a restful state. His fingers are aching before the tension begins to bleed away and the flesh beneath his touch becomes somewhat resilient. And then it's as if someone has flipped a switch. Duo completely relaxes and rolls over onto his side, dislodging the grip of Trowa's hand on his.

Carefully, Trowa withdraws his hands from the sleeping form. But he doesn't return to his bed. Not yet. He waits. He listens. Duo's breathing is slow and even. The creases across his forehead have disappeared. The only sounds coming from him are the occasional puffs of his breath being exhaled across the pillow.

Satisfied, Trowa retreats to his bed and joins Duo in getting a few more hours of rest.

+

Slowly, Duo blinks open his eyes. He rolls over for what seems like the hundredth time and settles in the warm cocoon of man-made fabric again. He doesn't want to wake up. It feels so damn nice to just lay here in the dim fuzziness of almost-sleep. It feels like it's been for-fucking-ever since he's just laid in bed until God knows how late...

Duo's eyes fly open.

Christ, what the hell time is it?

He flips onto his back and stares, disbelieving at the narrow beams of light sifting through the cracks in the boarded-up window.

I... I actually slept? The whole night?

A subtle movement on the other side of the small bedroom draws Duo's gaze. He feels a moment of shock upon seeing Trowa sitting back against the wall, already awake and dressed.

He's... still here...

Duo attempts to wrangle his disjointed thoughts into something resembling coherence.

I must not have dreamed...

Trowa looks pointedly at his watch. "Good... afternoon."

Duo stares at the guy in response to the softly spoken greeting. "Shit. Man, I never sleep this late."

The corner of Trowa's mouth curves upward. "You must have needed the rest."

Sitting up, Duo scrubs his face with his palms, trying to kick start his brain. "I'll say..." He shakes his head before offering his roommate an apologetic grin. "You must be bored out of your gourd, Tro."

Trowa's reply consists of a one-shouldered shrug. "I only woke up a little while ago myself."

"Hmm. Jetlag's a bitch, huh?" Smothering a yawn, Duo stretches, curling his fingers toward the ceiling, then dropping his arms down at his sides again. "So, Tro. What's on your agenda for today?"

Duo reaches for his bag, scrounging around inside it with one hand while the other pulls his braid over his shoulder and slips the black elastic off of the end.

"A little job hunting maybe. You?"

Busy sorting out the mess that his hair had become overnight, Duo nods. "Yeah, I've been looking around. No luck yet. Haven't tried the construction crews, though." He pauses, considering. "I don't think the pay's gonna be all that great. As it is, they'll probably just want to pay us under the table on a day-by-day basis."

"That's fine with me."

"Yeah... Money's money." Duo quickly rebraids his hair and sniffs at his shirt. He hesitates for a moment, then shrugs. It's passable. "What time is it?"

"Almost one."

Duo grins. "Good. With any luck, we'll find a foreman or two who needs some help staying on schedule today..."

+

"Well... So much for that idea," Duo comments, expression both exhausted and wry.

Trowa glances in his direction as they stroll away from yet another foreman's trailer on yet another colony re-construction site. The last few hours feel as if they'd been caught in a time loop. Every employment venture they'd tried had received the same negative result.

"You'd think that at least they could have used different lines." Duo shakes his head, recalling the eerily similar rejections that each site manager had deployed. Rubbing at a headache starting at his left temple, Duo grumbles, "They must learn that in engineering school. Rejection 101. Or something."

The corner of Trowa's mouth lifts at the thought. "They probably had to practice on each other in class to get it just right."

Duo throws his head back and barks out a laugh. In the middle of the sidewalk, he turns to Trowa, grasps the man's hand, looks deeply into his eyes, and says, "I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Barton, but I don't require anyone of your particular skills at this time."

The other corner of Trowa's mouth twitches. "That was good," he replies quietly. "But the inflection's not quite right on 'terribly.'"

Dropping Trowa's hand, Duo snorts. "I'll work on it."

Trowa slides his hands into his jeans' pockets and continues down the street, keeping less of an eye on his surroundings and more covert attention directed toward his companion. Duo had seemed like his old self today: cracking jokes and sharing anecdotes of dubious origins. He hadn't even so much as looked in the direction of the Alliance base all day. Trowa considers this. The kid he'd met on the doorstep of that old, run-down apartment building had indicated that Duo's trip down that street is an established ritual. And yet, today, he hadn't seemed to miss it.

"I've got to make a call," Trowa says into the easy silence just before Duo would have turned to head back to the house.

"Yeah?" Duo asks unnecessarily.

Trowa nods. "Tag along and I'll buy you dinner."

Duo's grin is wide and very cocky. "Well, now. That all depends on who you're callin' and if I've gotta talk to 'em."

"Cathy," Trowa replies. "And 'no,' in that order."

"Hey, even better! I just hope you're up for washing dishes to pay for my meal 'cause I could eat a mobile suit hydraulic system."

"I'm not sure we'll be able to find you one of those around here."

Duo sighs in mock disappointment. "Probably not."

"You'll just have to find another way of getting your daily allowance of heavy metals."

They meander through the streets, an occasional comment—coming, usually, from Duo—passing between them. Coming abreast of one of the colony's cleaner malls, the pair head inside. While Trowa makes his call, Duo distracts himself by studying the notice board beside the restroom alcove. He reads several "Have you seen our pet?" posters as well as fliers from new businesses looking for clients. There are even a few "Help Wanted" ads. His dark eyes skim over the meager variety until one pulls a grin from him.

"What is it?" Trowa asks from beside him.

Duo taps the piece of paper. "I found you the perfect job, man."

Trowa reads the black type. "Hm. Interesting."

Eyes wide, Duo looks at him, really looks at him. "Interesting?" he parrots, disbelieving.

Trowa nods.

"You think working in a pet store—cleaning gerbil cages all day and vacuuming up fish turds—would be interesting?"

Trowa arcs a brow. "Doesn't everybody?"

Duo snorts and shakes his head. "Dude, you are seriously creeping me out."

Trowa transfers his gaze from the bulletin board to Duo. In his typical, mellow voice, he intones, "It's always the quiet ones."

Duo chuckles. "You've got that right."

The two of them stare at the board for a moment longer, then Trowa locates an ad himself. "How about this one?"

Duo transfers his gaze to the corresponding square of yellow paper and reads:

Help wanted! New church to be built in Laurel Heights. Workers needed. Previous experience in construction a plus! If interested, please contact...

"Reverend Jamesson?" Duo murmurs.

Beside him, Trowa's green eyes stay focused on Duo's face. He reads Duo's reaction with difficulty. There is definite tension there, a conflict in interests, but Trowa is at a loss as to exactly why Duo is torn over this particular option. Duo continues to stare at the little piece of paper, as if willing it to tell him what he should do.

Trowa shifts and clears his throat softly. "It's just a thought. Come on, Duo. I promised to feed you."

That gets Duo's attention. Although whether it had, specifically, been the mention of his name or the offer of sustenance, Trowa isn't sure.

Duo offers him an apologetic grin. "Aw, look man, you don't have to... I mean, I know you're short on cash..."

Not that short, he knows but he plays along. Trowa crosses his arms over his chest and concedes, "This one time it won't be a problem... as long as we both have water to drink and order the specials."

Grinning in earnest now, Duo says, "Deal. And next time, I buy."

Trowa nods. "I'll even let you pick the restaurant."

Duo pretends to swoon. "Oh, you're too good to me, Tro."

"Don't I know it."

Shaking off his impassioned confession, Duo gestures for Trowa to follow him out of the mall. "And it just so happens I know of this little place..."

+

The billiard balls break apart with a satisfying crack! that resonates through the tiny pub. Trowa keeps his pool cue company and watches Duo work the table with ease. But then, after blasting mobile suits, infiltrating OZ bases, and sabotaging space stations, knocking a ball from one side of a table to the other isn't all that much of a challenge.

He glances around the room, noting that there are several patrons on this weekday evening. Which is probably why it's taking the single bartender so long to manage their dinners.

Duo finally misses his intended target and Trowa takes a turn at the table. He can't help but notice the way Duo's gaze follows him as he moves around the table, lines up the shot, and executes it. The way Duo's mouth curves just slightly upward with every ball Trowa sinks in the aforementioned and intended pocket.

Trowa leans over the worn, green felt and takes careful aim. This will be his fifth shot. And he knows he could make it. But... he hesitates. He thinks back to the shot Duo had missed. It hadn't been that difficult of an angle to manage. Not so different from the one Trowa's facing now. And, oddly enough, Trowa isn't really all that interested in sinking it. He suddenly decides that, despite the rules of pool, it's Duo's turn again.

He misses the shot.

Duo grins and re-chalks the end of his cue. "That angle gets you, too, huh?"

"Every time."

If either young man suspects the other of down playing their true abilities, neither says a thing. There are simply some things that friends don't talk about. And playing in order to prolong a game of pool rather than playing to win it, is one of them.

Duo wins the game, but neither really seems to notice. Trowa reaches in his pocket for a few more coins to restart the game when their dinners arrive. They retire their cues and settle in a booth accompanied by two glasses of ice water and two Thursday specials.

They eat in silence partly because the food is worth savoring and partly because Duo has something on his mind. Trowa leaves him to it, assuming Duo will say something if he feels the need.

And he does.

As they pull on their jackets and head out the door, Duo offers a friendly wave to the bartender and after that a serious expression to the street in front of him.

"Let's do it," he says.

Trowa glances at him, waiting for him to elaborate.

Duo takes a deep breath. "Let's call Reverend Jamesson and see if he needs help with that new church."

After a few steps, during which Duo doesn't appear to reconsider his decision, Trowa tells him, "All right."

"First thing in the morning," Duo continues. And Trowa has the impression that Duo isn't a hundred percent sure he won't change his mind about it.

"First thing in the morning," Trowa confirms.

Duo's shoulders relax marginally. "Cool."

They meander back to the abandoned house, taking their time. Although it hadn't been a particularly productive day, it hadn't turned out all that bad really.

[chap. 3] [chap. 5] [back to The Manwell's fic]