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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 5
No Lies

Duo slowly lowers himself onto his sleeping bag with a groan. Man, I must be seriously out of shape... He throws an arm over his eyes and recalls the warm welcome they'd found at the site of Reverend Jamesson's new church in Laurel Heights. He and Trowa had met with the reverend and the rest of the crew in the morning and found themselves hired on the spot. That had happened shortly after eight a.m. that morning. And they'd stayed. Until eight p.m.

On the one hand, it had been nice to keep his mind occupied with monotonous, redundant things. Physical labor is great for that. But on the other, his back and shoulders are sore.

"Roll over."

Duo lifts his arm and casts a wary glare at Trowa. "Huh?"

Trowa sinks down next to the sleeping bag and gestures for Duo to turn around. "Roll over," he repeats.

"How come?"

Patiently, Trowa explains, "You'll feel worse in the morning if you don't work the tension out of your back before you go to sleep."

"That a bit of acrobat wisdom?" Duo asks, complying.

Trowa corrects him, "Clowns."

Duo snorts, hugging the pillow under his chin. His eyes drift shut as Trowa's hands settle on his shoulders and begin the process of loosening Duo's muscles. He lets out a long sigh as just the right amount of pressure is applied. Damn but he's good at this.

"You ever think about becoming a professional masseuse, Tro?"

"No."

Duo almost groans as Trowa's persistence forces the muscles on either side of Duo's spine to turn to jelly. "Why the hell not?"

"Hairy clients."

Burying his face in the pillow, Duo feels his entire body shake with laughter.

"Stop that. You're undoing all my progress."

Coming up for air, Duo glances over his shoulder. Still chuckling, he shakes his head at Trowa Barton, stoic ex-Gundam pilot... Check that. Ex-stoic ex-Gundam pilot. Smiling, Duo lowers his cheek to the pillow again musing over Trowa's recently liberated sense of humor.

"What's so funny?"

Duo doesn't hesitate. "You." He spares a second look at him. "I always figured you must have been off shooting shit when they were rationing out senses of humor."

Trowa snorts softly. "I was."

Duo arcs a brow in question.

Trowa explains the previous absence of his humor: "Layaway. Been making payments."

With a small grin, Duo shakes his head. "You're something else, man." And then Duo groans as Trowa's hands begin to work at the small of his back. "Oh, dude. Masseuse or not, I am so not sharing you with anyone else."

"We prefer the term 'massage therapist,'" Trowa counters dryly.

Duo rolls his eyes but he's too relaxed to do much more than that. They lapse into silence as Duo feels and Trowa works. Then, after a good many more appreciative groans from Duo, Trowa inquires, "How does you back feel now?"

Unable to work up the energy required to enunciate, Duo mutters, "Err merm mem merrr..."

Trowa nods. "You're welcome."

Duo snorts and a smirk works its way across his mouth. He briefly considers sitting up to untie his boots before squirming under the covers but that just requires too much energy and he'll be damned if he's gonna move now...

A touch at his ankle makes him pause. He reluctantly turns his head and sees Trowa kneeling at the foot of the sleeping bag. Duo watches, a little surprised, as Trowa unlaces his shoes, gently tugs them off of Duo's feet, and sets them aside.

Just before exhaustion drags Duo down into sleep, he has a fleeting thought. He wonders just who this guy sharing this condemned house with him really is, wonders about the real Trowa, wonders if he ever really knew him at all...

+

Trowa allows himself a moment to study his roommate, the young man who'd introduced himself as Duo Franklin to the reverend today. Trowa settles down in his sleeping bag and considers the slumbering body across the way. He wonders if it's accurate to assume Duo had chosen a different last name because he'd felt 'Maxwell' would draw too much attention. Would invite all kinds of inferences and uncomfortable questions from colony residents familiar with the old church and its tragic ending. And he wonders if Duo had simply drawn the name 'Franklin' out of a hat, so to speak, or if there had been a reason for why he'd chosen to use that name.

Not that he's one to judge, of course. The reverend and the rest of the crew think his name is Trowa Bloom. But then, he hadn't wanted them to make the connection between him and Gundam pilot 03. Trowa closes his eyes and forces his muscles to relax. Perhaps he's just being overly suspicious. Perhaps Duo had used a different name for the same reason Trowa had.

But still, there is the possibility that he hadn't.

Trowa tells himself to think about it later. He studies the steady rise and fall of Duo's chest. His fingertips feel strangely warm as he remembers the feel of Duo's taut muscles beneath them. Trowa frowns, remembering his gesture. Duo hadn't even complained about the muscle tenderness. Trowa had simply noticed the slight wince as Duo had laid down. So he'd offered to help.

His frown deepens when he realizes that he's never done that before. Never offered assistance when it hadn't been necessary or solicited. Never offered to touch someone who hadn't been injured or ill.

Trowa recalls each moment he'd shared with Duo. And he discovers that it had been... nice. It had felt...

Trowa's thoughts grind to a halt.

He had felt...

His jaw tenses. He's not sure if that's what he wants. He's not sure he wants to go where this journey is leading him. But then, he's not here for himself. He's here for Duo. To help Duo. That's why he's here.

For Duo.

+

Straddling the spine of the still skeletal roof, Duo leans away from securing the reinforcing brackets and stretches.

"Hm."

He slowly grins as only the barest twinge of an ache can be felt. Trowa had been right about taking care of his back before going to sleep. Duo can't stop a slightly goofy grin as he recalls the massage. No one had ever done anything like that for him before. It had been... Nice, Duo decides. He takes a deep breath, getting ready to shimmy further down the roof to the next intersecting beam but pauses when he feels something slap against his shoe. Glancing down, he notices that his right boot laces are untied.

And of course, that reminds him of what had happened after the massage. Unable to stop himself, Duo scans the site, searching for his new housemate. He catches a glimpse of him by the circular saw, measuring and marking off a virginal two-by-four.

He still recalls his last thought of the night. Still remembers Trowa's firm, careful touch as he'd removed Duo's boots. Still can't believe he's never seen this side of the guy before. After all, they'd fought in the same war... usually on the same side...

I never had a clue.

So he'd never expected Trowa to be so... almost like...

A friend.

God, but last night Duo had felt so... taken care of. He sighs. Apparently, there are depths to Trowa and even he, Duo Maxwell, hadn't sensed. He who prides himself on his astute judgment of character... It's beyond strange that he'd missed it.

But then this is a strange time. The conspicuous absence of his nightmares being among the least of...

Duo pauses in his thoughts and back tracks.

No nightmares. Not since Trowa got here.

And Duo isn't sure what to think of that. He watches his friend work, examining his effortless grace, the shifting of his muscles beneath his skin. He hasn't had a dream strong enough to recall since Trowa had bumped into him at the convenience store. For a long moment, Duo tries to wrap his mind around this. He should have dreamed that first night. He'd been tense, expecting it. But it hadn't happened.

And because it hadn't happened, Trowa had stayed.

Duo's expression darkens as he wonders how the guy will react when the inevitable does happen. Could Duo stand it? To see pity reflected in those green eyes? Could he bear it if Trowa merely levels a flat stare on him and tells him to face his demons and be done with it? Could he get through another polite rejection?

No.

In spite of the surprisingly warm day, Duo shivers.

His days in Trowa's company are numbered.

Just as this thought comes to him, the youth in question looks up and meets Duo's gaze. For a moment, they simply stare at each other. Duo remembers the evening before. The camaraderie. The caring. He remembers and he wonders if Trowa's thoughts mirror his own.

Duo forces a smile and nods. Trowa inclines his head in return. Glancing away first, Duo pulls his leg up onto the nearest beam and ties his shoe. For a moment, he can still feel Trowa's piercing gaze focused on him. And not for the first time, he wishes he could read the guy's mind. Wishes he knew what would happen if he told him about the nightmares... about the truth...

Finally, Trowa gets back to work and Duo allows himself to watch him out of the corner of his eye. He thinks about this quiet, young man who had fought beside him in the war, who had done whatever the mission had required, even if that had meant betraying his comrades. Last night, just before sleep had claimed him, Duo had experienced an epiphany: he hadn't known Trowa Barton very well at all. He'd trusted the guy with his life and yet he knows almost nothing at all about him.

And now here he is: living in the same run-down house, working on the same construction site, having chats and swapping one-liners with someone he barely knows... but wants to.

Duo tells himself this is only going to hurt in the end. Tells himself it's better to start distancing himself now. Heero had been right; no one can help Duo except Duo. But he knows that when quitting time comes, he'll be walking home with Trowa. And perhaps it's pure selfishness, pure weakness, but Duo is utterly relieved that he won't be alone. At least not for one more night.

+

"Duo? What are you doing?"

Duo grins and lifts the unopened fifth of whiskey for Trowa to clearly see it. "What does it look like I'm doing?" he counters, attacking the cap and twisting it off.

Trowa arcs a brow. "It looks like you're planning on drinking yourself stupid."

With chuckle, Duo sets aside the bottle and reaches for a small bag. It's a recently acquired purchase, actually. Something he'd decided is necessary for this evening. He lifts out a small pack of plastic cups and tosses one at Trowa. "Well, Tro, you're half right."

Trowa looks from the cup he'd reflexively caught to Duo, to the bottle, to the cup in his hands, and back to Duo again. "And what makes you think I'll go along with this?"

Duo's grin gets, impossibly, wider. He pulls his second purchase out of the bag: a deck of playing cards. "Seeing as how we're off tomorrow, I figured we could hang out and... you know..."

"Get schnockered?"

Duo's laughter is a combination of snorts and chuckles. "Yeah. 'Schnockered.' "

Trowa doesn't look very enthusiastic. So Duo reins in his humor and attempts to sweeten the deal.

"Look, Tro. You don't have to drink if you don't want to. Actually, I wasn't planning on having much myself."

Trowa sits down on his sleeping bag and wordlessly watches Duo shuffle the cards.

"I was kind of thinking that, um, we don't know each other all that well. Especially considering we, like, fought together and all that. So, how about a friendly game of cards? The winner gets to ask the loser anything he wants. And the loser can either answer honestly or take a drink. What do you say?"

A long moment passes before Trowa says, "The loser gets to deal the next hand."

Duo nods. "Okay."

Reluctantly, Trowa reaches for the whiskey and pours a shot into his cup. "What's the game?"

"Poker."

"Poker."

The first hand passes in a somewhat uncomfortable silence. And, much to Trowa's surprise, he wins. He takes a moment to consider Duo as the other youth shuffles the cards for the next hand. He hadn't expected to win.

Finally, Trowa says, "What's the story behind your name?"

Duo blinks. Obviously he'd been expecting something different. Very different. None of the pilots had ever expressed a curiosity in Duo's debatably odd name.

"Uh..."

Trowa waits and wonders if Duo's going to opt to drink rather than answer. But Trowa's mildly surprised by Duo's reluctant decision.

"My name... Well, when I was really young, there was this older kid, named Solo, who kinda took care of me and a few other street kids. After he died I decided to call myself Duo. And, um, Maxwell is from the church that took me in... for a while." [7]

Trowa nods.

Cheeks slightly red, Duo deals the cards.

Trowa wins again.

Duo looks decidedly nervous.

The corner of Trowa's mouth twitches and he pushes his second question aside in favor of lightening the mood. "Have you ever cleaned gerbil cages or vacuumed up fish turds?"

For a moment, Duo just looks at him. Then the words seem to penetrate his brain and he snickers. "Um, no. No, I haven't."

"That's odd," Trowa observes. "You spoke with such authority on the subject."

"A vivid imagination?" Duo offers, grinning.

Trowa arcs a brow at him.

Duo slouches back a bit, relaxing into the exchange. "But, hey, if it makes you feel better, I really can't see you working in a pet store."

"Why not?"

"Too domesticated. Not enough challenge." Trowa appears unmoved by this line of reasoning, so Duo clarifies, "Nothing poisonous."

Trowa snorts. "Yeah, that would take the fun out of things."

Duo sorts out the next hand and manages to win this one.

"I..." He trails off as a dozen questions come to him at once. He settles on, "Why'd you leave the circus?"

And to Duo's complete astonishment, Trowa picks up his cup of whiskey. He looks down into its depths for a long moment, debating. Duo's about to apologize for the question when Trowa releases a breath and tells him, "There were some things I had to do. And I couldn't do them at the circus."

Evasive? Yes. The truth? Probably. The entire story? Hardly. But Duo doesn't persist in that line of questioning. As Trowa shuffles, Duo asks, "You miss it?"

"Sometimes."

"You think you'll go back someday?"

"Perhaps. Someday."

The evening slowly deepens into night and the game continues uninterrupted. They discuss a wide range of topics, including hobbies they've never tried but always wanted to. Duo confesses to a fascination with surfing and Trowa to shark diving.

"What is it with you and predators?" Duo inquires.

Trowa opens his mouth to offer something flippant, but shuts it again. He says, "I grew up among mercenaries. My first memories were of being a soldier. People kill for greed or ideals or power. Animals just... do what they have to. And in killing, they uphold the balance of nature rather than destroy it." [8]

Duo is silent for a long moment. "Do you ever think about the war in those terms? That the Gundams... balanced rather than destroyed?"

For nearly a full minute, there is no response. Then Trowa looks up and confides, "I try."

They've long since lost track of whose turn it is, but neither suggests a diversion from their current conversation.

"Trowa..."

"Hm?"

"Did you ever imagine we'd be seeing each other again, much less be hanging out together?"

Trowa almost smiles. "No. I didn't."

"Me either." Duo sighs. "Damn but running into you surprised me."

Trowa says nothing.

The odd silence prompts Duo to ask, "You were surprised, too, right?"

He opens his mouth to reply. To lie. But at the last possible moment remembers the rules. Honesty or a drink. His fingers tap against the side of the plastic vessel at his knee. Neither of them has indulged in the liquor tonight. Neither of them has felt the need. He stares into the amber liquid and comes to a decision.

At Trowa's silence, Duo glances up and watches with wide eyes as Trowa lifts the cup to his lips and drains it.

++

[7] The existence of "Solo" is, I suppose, a commonly known fact among Gundam Wing fans although I haven't read or seen anything on Solo from official sources, myself. The Maxwell Church is, of course, from the "Episode Zero" manga.

[8] Trowa's past as a mercenary is detailed in the "Episode Zero" manga.

[chap. 4] [chap. 6] [back to The Manwell's fic]